A Crisis of Discourse—Part 2: A Problem of Gender

An Elephant in the Room

In my previous post (which I have renamed so that this flows more clearly from it), I observed a growing crisis for progressivism, as people across the political spectrum are rejecting its form of discourse. Within this post, I will venture into far more controversial territory. I will speak directly about some issues that we commonly politely skirt. It is not my intent to give offence, although I appreciate that may easily be taken. For this reason, I request your patience and charity. If we never talk directly about such issues, we will forever be falling into the same problems and little progress will be made.

There is an elephant in the room of our social discourse, one salient fact that goes a long way to explaining the tensions between different forms of social and political discourse and their relative sites and means of power and influence. However, this fact is a fact that progressive discourse necessarily dissembles, because it is taboo:

Men and women are different and their differences have an immense impact upon the climate of our social and political discourse.

Jonathan Haidt, writing on Heterodox Academy, describes a striking experience he had when addressing high school students about the importance of open and challenging discourse in the educational environment.

[T]he discussion began, and it was the most unremittingly hostile questioning I’ve ever had. I don’t mind when people ask hard or critical questions, but I was surprised that I had misread the audience so thoroughly. My talk had little to do with gender, but the second question was “So you think rape is OK?” Like most of the questions, it was backed up by a sea of finger snaps—the sort you can hear in the infamous Yale video, where a student screams at Prof. Christakis to “be quiet” and tells him that he is “disgusting.” I had never heard the snapping before. When it happens in a large auditorium it is disconcerting. It makes you feel that you are facing an angry and unified mob—a feeling I have never had in 25 years of teaching and public speaking.

After the first dozen questions I noticed that not a single questioner was male. I began to search the sea of hands asking to be called on and I did find one boy, who asked a question that indicated that he too was critical of my talk. But other than him, the 200 or so boys in the audience sat silently.

After the Q&A, I got a half-standing ovation: almost all of the boys in the room stood up to cheer. And after the crowd broke up, a line of boys came up to me to thank me and shake my hand. Not a single girl came up to me afterward.

The gender divide startled him. After the talk, he led a discussion, within which he seemed to make some progress. In the article, he describes the fact that the boys experience immense social pressure to self-censor, a pressure exerted by the girls:

That night, after I gave a different talk to an adult audience, there was a reception at which I spoke with some of the parents. Several came up to me to tell me that their sons had told them about the day’s events. The boys finally had a way to express and explain their feelings of discouragement. Their parents were angry to learn about how their sons were being treated and… there’s no other word for it, bullied into submission by the girls.

It seems to me that, if we are to speak appropriately about them, the dysfunctional phenomena of our discourse that I have discussed in my previous posts are in large measure failures of healthy forms of gendered socialization. Incidentally, this is exactly the sort of problem we should expect to find in a society that ideologically resists the reality of gender and presumes that it isn’t an insistent natural reality that must be negotiated rather than dissimulated. Though we may hit the nerve of the sacred value of equality, homogeneous and indiscriminate inclusion in speaking of it, the integrity of our discourse itself depends upon careful handling of the relations between and within the sexes.

Men, Women, and Social Leverage

The bullying of boys into silence by girls might seem like an unusual phenomenon to those who have bought uncritically into certain prevailing notions of patriarchy and who are inclined to think in terms of a unilateral dominance of males in society. Yet, while men generally do dominate in positions of overt and direct public power and authority, women often exert considerably more indirect and relational power in their communities and societies. We just need to be more alert to the reality that is directly in front of us.

There is an anti-feminist trope that men who support feminism, especially stronger forms of it, just want to get laid. This is misleading and unfair, I believe. A minority of men genuinely do hold deep and sincere feminist convictions. This said, however, I think that most men rightly recognize their male peers’ expressed positions on the subject of feminism tend to shift considerably, depending upon the contexts that they are in and on the sorts of relationships that they have to women, and that males whose position in their particular social order is naturally precarious tend to be the most affirming of all. It should not be presumed that men’s disguise of their true sentiments arises from a manipulative hostility towards women on their part. Indeed, it is often quite the opposite: men hide their true sentiments because they care about women and don’t want to expose them to viewpoints that they might find threatening. Most men genuinely care about women, yet a great many are ambivalent about or unpersuaded by much of feminist thought.

Women may just be the most powerful force for preference falsification known to man, chiefly because what women think and feel towards them generally matters immensely to men, and by no means primarily for cynical sexual ends. Men know this all too well from their own and their peers’ behaviour and may distrust men who wholeheartedly adopt the favoured opinions of their partners or of women in their peer groups. They also know that preference falsifiers generally grow weary of their masks and appreciate candid contexts in which they can be relieved of their burden; these are typically male contexts, outside of women’s view. Seeing how men typically act in these less policed contexts, they are sceptical of those who insist they are not falsifying preferences in contexts where social expectations are heavily imposed.

When the chips are down in a gender-integrated society, men’s primary loyalties usually tend to default to women: to their mothers, to their wives, to their daughters, to their sisters, to their girlfriends, to their female friends. If a man feels that a woman in his life is threatened by another man, he will typically rally to her defence. And this is as it ought to be. Men are naturally highly protective of and closely bound to the women in their lives.

Women’s power is a social and associative power, one resulting from the fact that they have closer and more immediate relationships than men—not just with other women, but with men too. This gives them immense social leverage. Women are the glue of a society, the force that binds societies’ members together. Men tend to form larger, shallower, weaker, and looser networks, with more agonistic and combative interactions. Women, by contrast, tend to form stronger, more intimate, more emotional, and deeper bonds. Their relational bonds are far more load-bearing than men’s.

Women do have a very great deal of competition among themselves, but it is generally indirect and occurs beneath the radar. The combative form of male competition is overt and on the surface: men are rough with each other and engage in forms of ritual combat, often as a form of bonding. Women’s competition, by contrast, is largely carried out by such means as pressure to conform under the threat of social ostracization, leveraging male power to their advantage, recruiting males to attack people they dislike or rally to their aid, forming friendships or relationships with people of power or influence, gossip, cattiness, sassiness, sabotaging other people’s reputations, veiled antagonisms in friendships, etc. It is so successfully dissembled that remarkably little is said about the fact, for instance, that the majority of—and much of the most damaging—misogynistic abuse is instigated by women, even in cases where men are involved. Within a mixed group, men would rarely be able to bully a woman without permission from or the instigation of other women in the group.

Nosedive, the first episode of the most recent season of the TV show Black Mirror, depicts a dystopian world driven by veiled relational and reputational competition, illustrating the dynamic of a toxic form of feminine competition very well. As everyone rates their interpersonal encounters, producing a score which determines their social status and societal privileges, a desperate competition to gain and maintain one’s precarious place in the right crowds and the societal pecking order occurs, all veiled beneath the cloying yet entirely superficial niceness by which the battle is waged.

Compared to men’s intrasexual relationships, women’s relationships among themselves can have remarkable emotional and relational intensity, something perhaps most clearly seen in the ‘drama’ of their adolescent friendships. This subtle and fraught world of emotionally charged friendships is somewhat alien to most teenage boys, whose relationships with their peers tend to occur almost entirely on the surface, requiring little divining of the underlying emotional dynamics. Men are often fairly oblivious about how to handle emotionally intense relationships (a fact that may only become apparent to some after they marry) and, with their surefootedness in this rocky terrain, women can be both frustrated by men’s inability to function as nimbly as they can and also able to use their greater ability in this area to their considerable advantage.

As when people think about power they think primarily in terms of overt and direct power, it is easy to presume that men monopolize power. Yet, when one looks closer and deeper, the reality is considerably more complicated: the men may occupy most of the prominent positions of power, but their primary loyalties are often to the women closest to them. The man, as Chesterton observed, may be the head, but he may often only be the figurehead. He may have the direct power, but the woman may have most of the leverage.

Women’s Wit

In 2007, the late Christopher Hitchens wrote a provocative piece for Vanity Fair, entitled ‘Why Women Aren’t Funny’. Within it he argued that men were the funnier of the sexes and that it wasn’t even close. When it comes to being laugh-out-loud hilarious, men excel. Men need to excel, Hitchens argued, if they are to impress women. Men’s dominance in this arena arises in part from the fact that men are more prepared than the fairer sex to laugh at another’s expense, and to explore the ugly, unpleasant, and offensive dimensions of life that might offend a woman’s polite sensibilities, but which are a vast reservoir of fine comedic material. Unsurprisingly, male comedians dominate on the stand-up circuit, with relatively few women, disproportionately lesbians, to balance them out.

I believe that Hitchens was deeply mistaken in his judgment, though not entirely erring in his observations. Yes, men do naturally tend to dominate on the stand-up circuit. It is an aggressive and pugilistic context of discourse, played to a larger audience, with a significant element of risk involved, and typically involving frequent violations of the laws of politeness. Men will naturally come to the fore in such realms. However, the limited presence of funny women in that realm is a poor argument for the claim that women are the least funny of the sexes. Women’s humour is more likely to be encountered in the dense social environment than in the highly aerated arena of overt verbal combat. Women’s wit is generally played for much smaller audiences, and can display acuity of psychological perception and marked verbal adroitness. Indeed, those who are the objects of women’s humour may often be oblivious to the fact, as the wit is designed to be stealthy and recognizable only to the initiated. It is a means of managing and negotiating denser relational settings. It is hard to display on the stand-up stage, but is much more visible in the intimacy of prose or in the more private conversations at a social gathering. Hitchens was also mistaken if he thought that women are less funny out of niceness. Men may be the masters of insensitive and offensive comedy but few men can manage the exquisite cruelty of some women’s spiteful or snarky wit.

Jane Austen is a good example of a female novelist of comic genius, yet her more feminine cast of humour escapes many—especially male—readers who are inattentive to it. Her humour involves sharply observed social manners and relations. The comic voices in her work—the social satire of the veiled narrator, the gently deflationary characterizations, the sardonic humour of Mr Bennet and the vivacious wit of his daughter Elizabeth, the hilariously caustic remarks of a Lady Susan Vernon—are often subtle and sly, and occasionally merciless. Austen’s wit is about the shrewd observation and negotiation of the dense web of social relations in society. It puts people in their place, often gently, yet sometimes more forcefully. It can puncture prevailing social pretensions. She employs her wit as a subtle yet potentially devastating power. Peter Leithart’s description of her work is perceptive: ‘At her best, Jane Austen wrote out of laughter. Her art came from the impish glee of a precocious teenager amused by the follies of the world around her, wanting to get us in on the joke. Her final voice is modulated, deepened, matured by life and its losses; but it is still the voice of the Juvenalia, the joyous voice of Pride and Prejudice, the voice of the narrator of Emma and of the comic passage in the unfinished Sanditon.’

The giggling of teenage girls, who almost always seem to be sharing some silly private joke among themselves (a joke that the viewer may well fear to be at his own expense), can often be the target of the derision of those who deem this a childish behaviour. Yet it is here that the seeds of a mature feminine form of humour are often to be found. Such a form of humour can be acutely observant and slyly satirical of the social environment, and adept at manipulating and navigating it with verbal wit. Those who have mastered such wit are able to use it to bind people tightly together in the enjoyment of the private joke, to destroy the social power of an adversary, to put people in their place, to operate on two different levels of conversation, or to come out on top in the little conversational games whereby one can manoeuvre and gain social leverage. Where some men might throw a punch, many women know that the carefully engineered put-down can be far more shattering.

Manliness as Defence

On account of women’s closer bonds with their male peers in mixed groups, men recognize that any of their male peers is potentially a turncoat, someone who would willingly betray men and compromise his convictions in order to retain social standing in mixed society. One of several purposes that ‘manliness’ plays is that of signalling trustworthiness and loyalty to other men, assuring men that, although their primary loyalties are with the women in their lives, they will seek to uphold their loyalty to other men and to the greater demands of truth and justice. Their peers’ manliness provides assurance to men that they are dependable and trustworthy and that they will not betray them for the sake of their standing in mixed society, where men can be vulnerable.

Men cannot trust men whose primary concern is what women think, or who demonstrate little concern for what other men think. Such men will routinely falsify their preferences and betray other men and the male group in order to advance in the favour of women. Men like this cannot be relied upon to show appropriate loyalty to other men, nor to speak the truth when those actions might displease women.

Manliness signals trustworthiness to other men because manliness is about a man’s capacity, determination, and character as—and, most importantly, his commitment to be—a man among men. Manliness represents the traits that men desire and admire in other men. Manliness can’t really be cultivated in mixed company, but is learnt in male groups. Although women typically find masculinity desirable, they can find its strong expression in mixed company threatening to their status and so frequently discourage or proscribe it. Mixed company is a realm of politeness and niceness, where men have to rein themselves in and hold themselves back. If a man throws his weight around in mixed company, women will commonly expect other men to take him down for them.

Manly Society and its Code of Honour

Men and women don’t cease to act as men and women simply because we have subscribed to a gender-neutral ideology. Traditionally the academy and the world of politics were male worlds, operating according to the norms and the natural tendencies of male sociality. Even when women were involved, they were operating in a world that largely operated according to male rules.

As male realms, they were agonistic realms, realms of ritual combat and competition. The code according to which they operated was a manly code, a code that emphasized honour, assertion, confidence, agency, strength, and mastery. Other participants in these realms were expected to function as rhetorical, ideological, and political combatants, expected to fight their corner and challenge others, yet also to be subject to the rigorous stress-testing of the combative environment. For this you need to have strength and courage. You need to be assertive, forthright, and exhibit mastery of your subject and your own self. They were expected to function with honour and to respect the honour of other combatants, to be concerned for their reputation as men in the group. There was also a premium placed upon mastery. Such discourses are hierarchical in character, usually according the highest honour and prominence to those who most exemplify these virtues. If you can’t prove your mastery, you must yield to others who can. The most adept and able dominate in such realms.

It is often supposed that the concept of ‘being a man’ chiefly stands in contrast to that of being a woman. However, the greater opposition is probably that between the man and the boy or the unmanly. One must become a man through a process of socialization into strength, honour, courage, and mastery. This is not to suggest that weaker men do not have a place in such groups. Men typically want all of their peers to be socialized into a form of manliness, even though they often know that this manliness may well take a less pronounced form in some. There are a great many different varieties of manliness and its virtues and perhaps the majority do not require us to conform to the most stereotypical extreme male patterns of behaviour and appearance. Codes of manly honour often involve rejection of the practice of preying upon those weaker than oneself. Indeed, many male groups can be surprisingly sensitive to weaker members of the group. Having a strong and healthy bond of manliness is in all of our interests and men will often go out of their way to ensure that every boy is able to make the passage. Sadly, there are many cases where male groups are brutal towards those weaker members who are struggling to secure their place. One of the best ways to avoid such cruelty is to establish healthy intergenerational practices of socialization into manliness, rather than leaving boys to accomplish the transition alone.

On account of natural male instincts, male realms are exposed to several dangers. Perhaps one of the most extreme of these can be seen in the historic phenomenon of duels, whereby (overwhelmingly) men sought to defend their honour against perceived insults. While duels could be undertaken in response to things that seem to us to be the pettiest of provocations, it is important to recognize that the honour that was at stake really mattered, as it represented one’s standing in male society and helped to preserve the security of men and their families. If challenges to one’s honour were allowed to pass unchallenged one would render oneself and one’s family vulnerable to predation and assault. One’s honour and one’s willingness to fight for it really matter in a society without strong institutions of law and order, as it discourages people from mistreating or attacking you and those close to you.

Nevertheless, duels revealed men at their most hormonal and territorial. The stupidity of duels and their wastefulness of life needed to be escaped. Developing a culture of dignity to replace a culture of honour (see the discussion in this paper) was a necessary means by which the unruly tendencies were put in check. This culture of dignity required the establishment of institutions of law and order to provide security and resolution of disputes that didn’t depend upon one’s honour and capacity for vengeance. Likewise, institutions developed structures by which the benefits of combative male forms of discourse could be maintained, while placing checks to ensure that they did not collapse into violence. Interactions in the House of Commons, for instance, provide a good illustration of this. Discourse is mediated by the speaker and honorifics—‘the Right Honourable Gentleman’, etc.—are employed in order to guard against dishonour. Moderation of debates and discussions can also put a check upon the tendency of male conversation to fall into pointless ego battles. Masculinity needs to be housetrained for the sake of civilized discourse.

Despite these dangers, male contexts of discourse come with some very considerable advantages. A gendered manly code helps to regulate discourse. In the realm of discourse, a man is expected to have the strength to push his position and to weather challenges to it. For a man to use the ploy of weakness to escape honest and direct debate is dishonourable. Although it is dishonourable for a man to pick on the weak and on non-combatants, if you strongly assert a position you are to be regarded as a combatant and must stand up for yourself or find some advocate to do so. If neither you nor anyone else is willing or able to prove the strength of your position in argument, the position forfeits the right to public recognition and respect.

A man is expected to have the courage to be forthright, to speak his mind, and to expose himself to his opposition. He is expected to fight, to expose himself to risk, and to be prepared to sacrifice for the sake of something greater than himself. In argument, a man is expected to show the courage of assertion, to put himself on the line and genuinely to risk public loss. In discourse, a man is also to be held to a standard of mastery, to be tested and, if he should fail, to suffer some measure of a loss of standing.

Most importantly, manly discourse is governed by honour, which holds men responsible to display these manly virtues in argument at risk of losing face and standing among their peers. You must not ‘chicken out’ of an argument or shrink from engagement with a challenger. One must not use dishonourable ploys or means to avoid a direct encounter or defeat your opponent with underhand means. You must stand for your position when it faces really strong challenge, or both it and you will forfeit honour. In making an assertion you must submit to the rules of combat and accept the status of a combatant. You must recognize the honour of other combatants and not expect to misrepresent or mistreat others with impunity. When your very honour is challenged (for instance, when someone doesn’t just challenge a particular position that you make, but accuses you of academic fraud), it is essential that you stand for it. Now, all of this is moderated to some extent by structures of ‘law and order’ governing our various discourses that resolve certain disputes and challenges. However, for the most part, the culture of public discourse has operated according to a culture and code of manly honour.

This culture is particularly important when it comes to prominent leadership: a code of honour, calling for the virtues of manliness, gives force to our expectation that leaders in particular be exposed to challenge and prove the strength of their positions or forfeit their status. The authority of leaders cannot easily be abstracted from their demonstration of the virtues of manliness: strength, honour, mastery, and courage. Manly authority doesn’t reside simply in offices, but arises from the public perception that a man possesses such virtues, especially when they are exercised in the service of goodness, truth, or beauty. Where a leader clearly lacks such virtues, people will not regard him as having much authority, even though he may enjoy office. Office and command without the weight of some form of the traditionally manly virtues—whether the person exercising it is male or female—can seem bossy. It is the sort of leadership that is perceived to lack the strength to underwrite its claims to people’s submission.

This male culture I have described also tends to establish a sort of heterotopic location for its conflicts—an arena, a battlefield, the pitch, etc. The location is set apart from the more intimate locations of daily life and society. It is a realm of personal jeopardy into which only combatants can venture. In entering into this arena, everyone is expected to play by the rules, to put himself on the line, and to be able to give and to take fierce challenge.

A Shift in Our Culture of Discourse

This culture of agonistic discourse implicitly upheld by the code of manly honour has served us well in many respects. It is an integral element of our traditional culture of ‘free speech’. However, over the past few decades our realms of political and academic discourse have become mixed contexts, which has thrown a great deal into confusion and disarray. The fact that we have become ideologically hampered in our ability to talk about the differences made by sexual difference has greatly limited our capacity to deal with these changes.

Where the front lines of political and academic discourse have clearly been regarded as male worlds, women have generally, perhaps with minor accommodations, proved themselves using the same implicitly manly code of honour that men have. In the process, they have often brought their own particular strengths to the table, improving the quality of the discourse, pushed back against certain unhelpful male tendencies, and tempered the unruly excesses of manliness. The agonistic tendencies of male discourse, if not well tamed, can hamstring rather than empower our conversations. Instead of probing and testing discourse, we are left with blinkered and braying belligerence and tiresome games of one-upmanship. Instead of conversations that elicit the strengths of many different perspectives, a few bullying voices dominate the floor. A concern for the truth has on many occasions been eclipsed by the pursuit of ego. Our political and academic conversations have so often benefited and grown in their integrity from the ways in which women, while preserving the strengths of male modes of discourse and observing a similar code of honour, have pushed back against our less helpful tendencies and complemented more typically male models of discourse with more collaborative and inclusive forms of discourse.

However, with respect to the specific tasks of political and academic discourse, women’s more natural social tendencies do not merely add strengths, but have also introduced serious weaknesses. We should not expect that the realms of politics and the academy can introduce large numbers of women without undergoing more fundamental cultural and institutional change in the process. Women’s schools and women’s studies are ground zero for the current issues with free speech in the campus. This is not a coincidence.

The underlying problem is not primarily with the ideologies that are being taught in these locations. Rather, the ideologies often seem to function as a rationalization of more naturally female inclinations in discourse and socialization.

Women do not naturally gravitate to a manly code of honour. The social virtues that are elevated in women’s groups tend to be things like inclusion, supportiveness, empathy, care, and equality. Through his and his students’ research on the subject of ‘social justice warriors’, Jordan Peterson has identified that it refers to a real phenomenon in the world, but also suggests that it is specifically related to a maternal instinct: ‘the political landscape is being viewed through the lens of a hyper-concerned mother for her infant.’

This instinct causes all sorts of problems when expressed in an academic or political context. It infantilizes perceived victim, minority, or vulnerable groups (women, persons of colour, LGBT persons, disabled persons, etc.), perceiving them as lacking in agency and desperately in need of care and protection. When persons from such groups enter into the realm of political or academic discourse, they must be protected at all costs. Unsurprisingly, this completely undermines the manly code that formerly held, whereby anyone entering onto the field of discourse did so at their own risk, as a combatant and thereby as a legitimate target for challenge and honourable attack. The manly code calls us all to play to strength, whereas the maternal instinct calls us all radically to accommodate to weakness.

The opening up of the field of front line discourse to people with a non-combatant or non-manly status causes severe problems for men too. Men are naturally inclined to protect women and generally seek to please them. While men bond with their male peers through rough interactions, they do not generally do the same with women. Men spend their whole lives learning to hold themselves back in female company, learning how to pull their punches, how not to speak their full mind, how to avoid giving offence. This second nature can’t simply be put on hold, but must actively be resisted, if women are to be treated as full peers in such settings.

So many men who proclaim the equality of women instinctively resort to ‘white knighting’—rushing to women’s aid—when they see a woman being firmly challenged by a man. As C.S. Lewis once observed, ‘battles are ugly when women fight.’ Unless we are mindful in our handling of them and the men and women who are admitted to them, arguments can become ugly in such conditions too. Honour may be abandoned and matters can become bitter and personal. The eye is taken off the ball of truth and argument and men turn on other men, rather than allow another man to beat a woman. While men are expected to put themselves on the line in debate and risk significant loss, many have a visceral resistance to seeing women experience the same thing.

There is no ideological pill that will easily deliver us from such deeply rooted gendered instincts. Indeed, part of the irony here is that the men who are most stereotypically protective of women within such contexts are often the men who push the hardest for them to be included within them, lest they be wounded by the implication that they are weak. As I discussed earlier, men’s bonds to the women in their lives tend to take precedence over their relations to other men. Protecting women and their feelings frequently takes priority over truth and honour in argument.

Female Conflict in Discourse

Earlier on in this post, I discussed more typical female forms of conflict, whose less direct and overt character contrasts with male forms of conflict. Revisiting these forms of conflict at this point, I think that we can see that a great many of the issues complained about by those pushing for free speech on campuses have all of the hallmarks of female forms of conflict (perhaps especially their forms of intrasexual conflict).

People pushing for free speech complain about stifling climates of discourse on campuses, which dangle the threat of social ostracization over those who do not rigorously affirm and uphold politically correct values. They complain about the sacred status of those groups designated as victims and the way in which they are presented as immune to challenge and lacking in their own agency. They complain about the way that weakness and vulnerability are exaggerated and weaponized. They complain about the ways that people’s reputations are attacked and academics are blacklisted. They complain about the ways that speakers articulating unwelcome viewpoints are ‘no-platformed’. They complain about the ways in which values of safety and inclusion are used to rule out challenge. They complain about the way that the campus isn’t treated as heterotopic, as a realm set apart for ideological engagement and challenge. They complain about the ways that campus authorities are constantly appealed to for protection against others. They complain about the rise of a culture of victimhood, coddling, and the radical infantilization of perceived victim groups. They complain about the college’s loss of robust academic authority in the public’s perception and of the manner in which it has come to be perceived as morally hectoring.

Again, we should be paying attention to where this behaviour is especially concentrated: in contexts dominated by women and LGBT persons, contexts where the traditional norms of manliness are the least operative. This is not, I believe, principally some bizarre product of a radical Marcusian ideology. Rather, the ideologies are almost certainly rationalizations of the social dynamics that naturally characterize the dominant demographics in those realms. Conversely, women self-select into realms that are characterized by a lot of agonistic discourse at much lower rates (although, of course, the causality runs in both directions here: realms that are heavily male dominated will tend to be agonistic in their actions and marked by some code of manliness).

We should also recognize why so many men in particular instinctively react against this developing campus culture: not only is it perceived to be academically bankrupt, but it is also dishonourable, in flagrant and wilful violation of the tenets of manliness. It renders the campus a realm of the unmanly and emasculates the men within it. Even if it cannot be articulated as such, it is experienced as a gendered colonization of a realm that traditionally largely operated according to male norms in a manner that renders those norms inoperative.

Our negotiation of the reality of sexual difference will have immediate bearing upon the integrity of key social contexts of discourse. Of course, the intellectual work of the academy is by no means reducible to mere agonistic discourse, any more than the work of the courtroom is exhausted by vigorous cross-examination. However, the stress-testing of ideas through contestation and challenge is absolutely non-negotiable if we are to produce an academy with integrity and intellectual authority, an academy that will be regarded as suited to exert societal leadership. Just as the maximization of agonistic discourse is stifling of the intellectual life of the university, so its elimination will enable the metastasization of unchecked ideology throughout the organs of our social discourse.

Social Media and the New Context of Political Discourse

It is imperative that we take account of the cultural changes brought about by the rise of social media. I have written upon these at considerable length in the past. One of the central points that I have made is that social media bring us too close together. Traditional forms of public discourse are effective in large measure through differentiating their participants: through status, office, time, physicality, intermediation, ritual, place, position, etc., etc.

Public discourse traditionally occurred in highly aerated and differentiated discursive environments, such as courtrooms and debating or parliamentary chambers. Yet online we are all placed into a more immediate contact with each other, in a ‘saturated social environment.’ Within this realm we are all peers and contemporaries, without differences in rank or station. It is often a gender-neutralizing and egalitarian realm, where every voice is equally valid. Online we also all function on the crest of the latest breaking wave.

Millennials are often castigated as a generation for their narcissism, self-preoccupation, and other such traits. However, in our defence, it should be noted that we are the canaries in the coal mine of a new ecology of society discourse, especially younger millennials. Many of us have been using online social media since high school. The rise of social media is akin to the first introduction of a mirror to a society in which people had never properly seen their own faces. We are now existentially involved in an online spectacle on social media, where we must rigorously perform our identities, acutely aware of the fact that we are constantly exposed to judgment.

Existing in such a context elevates our social anxieties. It fractures or overwhelms former contexts of solitude and withdrawal from society. It creates a socially saturated order and limits the possibility of heterotopic discourse. When people complain about the need for a ‘safe space’, it is important to bear this new social reality in mind. Where there are few genuine sites of retreat from society and where challenging discourse no longer can be limited to a heterotopic arena, people will naturally feel much more threatened by people who strongly disagree with them. This is perhaps especially the case for young women, who are far more naturally attuned to and involved in the ‘social’ dimensions of social and connected media (for instance, generally sending considerably more texts than their male peers). Without a ‘safe space’, they are denied a realm of care and social conflict becomes total. Their concerns on this front should not merely be dismissed.

The Hyper-Connected Political Class

The mind of the new cultural elite is being formed in the echo chambers of Twitter and Facebook. Their culturally elite status isn’t a matter of wealth or even of class as traditionally defined, but is a matter of holding the prestige faith of progressive liberalism, something that is closely bound to college education. Many poor students and journalists nonetheless belong to this elite class.

Twitter is the small talk of an interminable fancy dinner party, the cultural terrarium within which an internationalist political class grows. On Twitter, what one says about things is the most important thing; substance dissolves into speech—unrelenting speech. On Twitter, real world events and realities exist chiefly as props whereby a privileged class can negotiate their internal relations, where news is fodder for phatic speech. Twitter brings this class so much closer together—into constant and incessant correspondence—yet thereby increasingly detaches them from the rest of the population.

The closer that Twitter and Facebook bring this internationalist progressive class to each other, the more that this class starts to function as a ‘dense society’, characterized by intense peer pressure and a fixation upon how one appears to others. It is a new ‘village’ where public shaming can nuke a person’s reputation and career, where the circulation of rumours and gossip holds immense destructive power, which can be strategically deployed as threat or sanction. It is also a site where the crowd itself serves as an agency that can be appealed to in order to intervene when someone feels threatened.

These dynamics will have the effect of turning the political classes in upon themselves in a profound self-absorption. The conversation will come to be dominated by those issues that are most serviceable for managing the political classes’ internal relations and self-expression and maintaining their standing, rather than by the issues that really are the most important and pressing in the wider society.

Symbolism will tend to replace substance. Given the choice between talking about the compounding crises of automation in the Rust Belt or transgender bathrooms, they will choose the latter. Given the political classes’ turning in upon themselves, it shouldn’t surprise us in the least that the last few years have been dominated by precisely the sort of primarily symbolic social issues that are most useful for virtue signalling within the elite class (same-sex marriage, fights over transgender bathrooms, getting the first female president, Black Lives Matter protests, etc.). Online we also have short attention spans, which can produce series of polarizing outrages and emotionally gratifying causes, few of which require any grasp of the larger picture.

Even when politicians aren’t themselves heavy participants in the Twitter conversation, the people who surround them will be. Unsurprisingly, many others can be profoundly alienated by the elites’ self-preoccupation and prioritization of symbolic issues that lend themselves to Manichaean posturing over complex and substantial ones that require sustained thought and intense concrete engagement in the outside world. Iain Martin, writing in Reaction, interviews one such person:

“I don’t like Trump, but look at what is happening in this country. People have had enough. Imagine you live in Michigan or Wisconsin, or Ohio, or Pennsylvania, or Florida, or North Carolina. You’re getting by ok but it’s fraught with worry and even the good months seem like a respite from it all going, what do you Brits say? tits up. One of you has two jobs. Your neighbour’s wife works at Walmart but that’s getting eaten alive by Amazon and delivery companies. What are your kids going to do for a living? College is expensive and then what? The companies they might work for won’t offer them anything like security. It’s tough out there. And what’s the biggest news story of the last year on TV here other than the election? Other than Black Live Matters protests.”

I shake my head. I don’t know.

“Transgender restrooms. Transgender bathrooms. All the time. Crazy protests on campus. All the time. Crazy, angry, entitled, spoilt people shouting on your TV about justice and trigger warnings and transgender stuff and hating America and how bad the country is when they’ve no idea what life is really about. While tens of millions of people in those states have real concerns about jobs, pay, about the economy, about their children. And this is the next battle that the radicals want to fight? Abolishing men and women? No. Equality yes. This crap? No. And eventually you think: what the hell is going on in this country? And you vote for the one guy that says enough.”

Bernie Sanders is correct: the progressive liberal elite is incapable of talking to the working class, and this is why. The working class may not be privy to the heart of this conversation on social media, but they see its effect on the national conversation in the newspapers, TV shows, and, most particularly, in the silence upon the issues that affect them the most. The more closely interconnected the political class is within itself, the more disconnected it is from the rest of the country. Twitter hogs the bandwidth of the political conversation, preventing other things from being talked about.

The Gendering of the Political Conversation

As social media changes the environment within which political discourse operates, the dynamics of the discourse shifts. Traditionally, political discourse occurred within the heterotopic arena of male agonism, a realm set apart from domestic and personal affairs, yet within which the wider reality of the society was debated. The relationships of this predominantly male group could be robust, but they were looser and aerated, involving conflict and dispute. They weren’t the more intimate and personal relations of closer social affinity.

For the elite who participated in this discourse, the agonistic male discourse was counterbalanced by the mixed social realm of polite society, where feminine social virtues principally prevailed, relations were much denser, dispute would be discouraged, and the conversation was often a form of social grooming and positioning. This was a realm where women’s social leverage and skills could come to the fore.

In Twitter, we are witnessing a collapsing of the traditional manly political discourse into a more feminine polite society, with considerable tensions on both sides. In dense societies, disagreement is a threat and conversation, while frequently demonizing and ostracizing other parties, struggles to deal with the sort of difference near at hand that rougher and more aerated agonistic discourse handles much more adeptly. The aggressive arguments of men on Twitter are taken considerably more personally by women (and by the men who care about them) and are generally perceived as far more abusive than they would be were they directed at men. On the other hand, many argumentative men chafe at the regime of politeness that tends to develop in social locations where large numbers of women are present.

When the world of politics starts to be dominated by the norms of polite society in the ruling classes, preference falsifications that may fly in the elite’s Twitter feeds will start to be imposed upon the population at large, with much less positive results. Preference falsification is one thing when it offers social advancement and privilege, quite another when it is experienced as a yoke of cultural subjugation to an elite class. The rubes outside of the enlightened bubble are also much more likely to be ridiculed and despised as the smugness of polite society becomes the operating tone of politics.

Places like Twitter are becoming our Versailles, establishing progressivism’s hegemony by creating a new stifling centralized polite society under its oversight, with everyone jockeying for position by cosying up to its values, yet alienating and disempowering the rest of the population in the process. Instead of disparate regional interests entering a heterotopic realm of agonistic contestation, many parties are gathered together in a shared socially saturated environment where they conform to powerful cultural norms for the sake of their social and political survival. They are gradually being detached from their locations of origin and the disparate interests for which they once advocated. In the process, the population at large is gradually cut adrift from the political classes. The feminization of the realm of political discourse will naturally risk the tendency of closing the political class in upon itself.

Mixed social company is typically a realm of heavily falsified preferences, a place where the call to be nice and polite prevents people from expressing their full mind. The norms that drive these falsified preferences are principally established by women, as their opinions carry the greater weight in this realm. Power in the dense social arena chiefly belongs to women, as they generally form much closer relations than men can. The core social group and its membership are largely determined by women and men really need to keep on the right side of women, as their peers typically prioritize the women in their lives over the men. Like the students Haidt described earlier in this post, within this realm, women can use their greater social leverage to ‘bully’ men into silence through the threat of social ostracization or marginalization.

Tensions on the Left

Some of these gendered tensions can already be seen between the old left and the progressive left. More traditional leftist supporters of Bernie Sanders, stigmatized as ‘Berniebros’ by feminists supporting Clinton, are making the most of their delicious side-serving of schadenfreude that comes with the large and bitter main course of our new political reality. Freddie deBoer had already written at length against the progressive left’s toxic ‘politics of deference’:

Left-wing critics of contemporary progressives have often struggled to find a term to describe rhetoric or tactics they find unhelpful. Terms like “political correctness” and “identity politics” are too deeply associated with conservatism, and too clumsy, to be of much use. I have personally taken to thinking of a particular kind of misguided progressive political engagement as the politics of deference—that is, the political theory that suggests that people of a progressive bent have a duty to suspend their critical judgment and engage in unthinking support of whoever claims to speak for the movement against racism and sexism. This is the common notion that allies should “just listen.” There are all manner of problems with that attitude, first and foremost among them the question of who, exactly, we should just listen to when different members of marginalized groups disagree, as they inevitably will. But more, the notion that we should just listen asks us to forego the most basic moral requirement of all, the requirement to follow one’s own conscience. Just listening is easy, and you will find many armies of privileged people in media, academia, and the entertainment industry who have made a career out of it, coasting along with whatever the day’s progressive fads are. But just listening leaves us bereft of the kinds of ruthless self-review that are a political movement’s only defense against drift, complacency, and corruption. Just listening is self-defense; just listening is bad faith.

Of course, there is a self-reflexive element that will surely come into play here: critics of this essay will no doubt accuse me of the very bigotries that I am arguing we should be more careful in discussing. This is the tail-swallowing aspect of today’s liberal spaces, not the noble and correct prohibition against engaging in racist or sexist behavior but the meta-prohibition against questioning whether any given accusation is credible or convincing. A political tendency that prohibits its members from questioning each other, or which treats critical examination of its beliefs about bigotry as bigotry itself, has sewn the seeds of its own demise.

Following the catastrophic failure of progressivism in the election, his criticisms have a renewed urgency and appeal. Together with figures like Matt Bruenig, deBoer has represented a push for a more aggressive form of discourse, and a turn away from identitarian deference (deBoer is pessimistic about things changing within the Democratic Party, but as the country increasingly turns against them, they may be left with little choice).

The gendered character of the growing conflict on the left regarding appropriate rhetoric was exposed in part through the kerfuffle that led to Bruenig being fired from the think tank Demos. On the one hand, some well situated women weaponize institutional power to shut down or close out aggressive challenging voices and practically protect their positions from vigorous interrogation. On the other hand, some belligerent men use hostile verbal argument in a manner that renders the online experience of women a deeply unpleasant one, not least by implicitly giving much less savoury followers permission to subject women with whom they differ to explicitly misogynistic attacks.

To such figures on the left, prominent Clinton supporters like Lena Dunham reek of narcissistic bourgeois feminism. This narcissistic feminism is not only dulled to class issues, but through its preoccupation with a petty in-group associative politics, intensifies them by stigmatizing and disassociating from those outside of its class. Like the selfish housemate who leaves their computer downloading several movies while they are out and you need to make an important video call, this self-obsessed feminism also hogs the political bandwidth, preventing serious conversations from taking place.

The New Feminist Politics

As I have already emphasized, men and women don’t cease to behave like men and women simply because we have declared ourselves to be living in a gender-neutral society. If we are to understand the current shape of politics, it is imperative that we take gender seriously. We must also recognize that resistance to a woman like Hillary Clinton in power is neither unrelated to her sex, nor necessarily irrational and misogynistic.

A great many experiments to identify sexism in hiring begin with identical CVs, yet with the genders of the job applicants switched. The implicit assumption here is that, once differences in skills, aptitudes, and attainments are ruled out, two such applicants are essentially interchangeable. Of course, this is a huge assumption. For it to hold, one would have to deny the existence of any probabilistic differences between the sexes as groups in pertinent criteria, as knowledge about groups is relevant even when we are making decisions about individuals about whom we have information. As a culture we have determined that sexual difference is an irrelevancy at most, relating only to genitalia.

However, as I’ve already argued, men and women can form strikingly different forms of social relations and these different forms of social relations produce different cultures of discourse, thought, and politics. The form of feminist politics is one shaped by particular patterns of female sociality.

Feminist politics takes a more typically feminine form, majoring on the use of social leverage for feminist ends. If you think about it, the typical feminist political victory takes the form of persuading some other agency to do something or intervene on their behalf. It is a politics of empowerment and empowerment almost invariably rests upon the existence of some more fundamental power that acts as one’s patron and comes to your aid against other parties.

A politics of empowerment will differ sharply from the more historically male and oppositional cast of politics. The very nature of a politics of empowerment demands the growth of patron agencies, which accrue ever greater powers to themselves. The great gains of feminism have expanded such agencies. The expansion of the franchise was also an expansion of government’s power to act without the mediation of the family and to deal directly with new classes of dependent persons. The rising entrance of women into the workforce increased the power of capital and made the workforce more biddable and conformable.

As feminism is wedded to these agencies, it cannot very effectively stand over against them. Also, the more such agencies ‘empower’, the more they establish dependence and the greater their grip upon society. Such agencies are also frequently called to act against lesser agencies that don’t ‘empower’ women in the desired way, strengthening their dominance and enabling them to close down opposition ever more effectively.

Feminism’s logic is a great way to establish a docile workforce. It switches a more oppositional master-slave model for something closer to a mother-child model. Our sense of any underlying struggle for power between labour and capital or society and government is dulled as our problems are reframed as an issue of capital and government just not empowering us enough. However, capital and government are for the most part very happy to ‘empower’ us and give us many of the trappings of power, while keeping actual power for themselves (and gaining more power as we become more dependent upon them for our ‘empowerment’). Understandably, the character of feminist politics will cause problems for the traditional left, for whom class oppositions are important.

The more empowering patrons prevail, the more that they will tend to close down those who seek to exercise power and agency directly. This, I suspect, is disproportionately restrictive for men, in large part because the new authorities act in a more maternalist manner, smothering and pathologizing the more typical disruptive and oppositional modes of male agency. It seems to me that many of the puerile modes of male rebellion that we encounter today need to be understood against this background.

The Queen Bee

A politics of empowerment founded upon social leverage will also have the effect of dissembling power. Power becomes diffuse and unaccountable. In the more overt form of male power, there is typically a head, a prominent and exposed figure, who is held to the standards of manly agency, being personally and directly responsible and accountable for that which occurs under him and honour-bound to face and defend himself against challenge. This figure is expected to be strong, to put himself on the line, to exhibit mastery, and to act with manly honour and responsibility. This is what gives weight to his authority. He must face direct conflict and challenge and prove his suitability for office by weathering that which is thrown at him.

Hillary Clinton, however, represented a different sort of politics: the politics of the queen bee. The power of the queen bee is not the direct and accountable power of the manly leader, but a more feminine power of extreme social leverage. This power is not inconsistent with an extreme vulnerability. When people see someone challenging their queen bee, they will rapidly rally to her and fight off the threat. The queen herself is inapproachable. Her power is the hive that surrounds her, the power of her immense social leverage.

One of the reasons that many people disliked and resented Hillary Clinton was because they felt that she was being ‘forced on the public.’ This perception merits examination. Clinton was not believed to be a powerful candidate (unlike a woman such as Margaret Thatcher, who earned her epithet of the ‘Iron Lady’). Rather, she was perceived to be a candidate who was weak in terms of the conventionally manly criteria of politics, yet with immense social leverage within the Democratic Party. The power of Clinton is the power of the great Washington hive: she is the queen bee around whom they will all rally. The power of Clinton is the Democratic Party’s undermining of Sanders’ candidacy. The power of Clinton is the Clinton Foundation’s power as a concentration of political and moneyed interests. People resented Clinton because they knew that she represented and secured the unaccountable power of a hive of insider interests behind her.

Political queen bees have some considerable advantages. The diffuse character of their power means that they cannot easily be challenged or held accountable. As soon as one challenges the queen bee, people will rally around her, cutting off any direct attack. The sort of direct challenges that are part and parcel of traditional manly political engagement are perceived to be sexist when directed, even in the mildest of forms, towards women. People will not permit their queen bee to be treated as a combatant, nor to put herself on the line.

Leaders who do not exhibit traditional manly traits can be politically suspect. Their power, such that it is, must lie elsewhere. The pushing forward of women in politics can often engender suspicion in many in the population—especially among the male working classes—who recognize that the power of such leaders increasingly lies in the networks that put them forward, surround them, and protect them from direct challenge.

Men, in particular, are far more likely to trust an assertive leader who clearly demonstrates an independent strength. Such a leader can be dealt with directly. Men may find unmanly leaders emasculating, because they no longer even have the ability to look at the power that is oppressing them directly in the face or to challenge it directly. The power that holds them down has hidden itself behind the soft face of a weak leader. It shouldn’t surprise us that many women also found Clinton alienating too. The power Clinton represented to them was less the power of women as such as the power of her particular hive.

The language that surrounded Clinton’s candidacy is illuminating in several regards. Themes and sentiments of solidarity with Clinton as an individual (e.g. ‘I’m With Her’) and—now wounded—entitlement (e.g. it was her time but she was robbed) are often prominent. The queen bee’s advancement is owed to her by others, rather than something that she must obtain or fail to obtain for herself. This is because the power of social leverage is in large measure a power established by the obligations that can be placed, or the duties that lie, upon the shoulders of others.

Progressive women were profoundly emotionally invested in Clinton’s candidacy, much as many other women are emotionally invested in ‘Queen Bey’. The queen bee becomes the vehicle for her adorers’ own psychodrama. They are fixated by her and identify with her on an intimate level. Her success is inseparably intertwined with their own sense of well-being. The policies of Clinton were quite incidental to this identification: the bond with Clinton was with the very intimacy of her womanhood. Like the female worker bees in a hive who do not reproduce but raise their sisters from the queen, the feminist sisterhood can rally around and support the queen as the one who will give value to their own identities.

The Feminist Society

A politics of empowerment and a culture of victimhood go hand in hand. Just as the kid that bursts into tears and runs to their mother at the slightest provocation can use parental sanctions to empower them against others, so the feminist elevation of the rhetoric and ideology of victimhood serves to increase their social leverage (one thinks of the new mansplaining hotline that has just been set up in Sweden!). Exaggerated vulnerability can be exploited as a means to gain power. The term ‘crybully’ has been coined to describe such weaponized victimhood and vulnerability.

It also creates a context that radically stifles strong and independent agency. The more that we privilege dependency and reliance upon third parties to intervene, the more we will start to resemble infants and the more those parties will adopt a smothering hyper-maternalism. Unsurprisingly, in those places where feminist theories and practices are most influential—on college campuses—we encounter the most stifling and neurotically protective institutions of all. The feminist rhetoric of strength is almost invariably allied to a rhetoric of vulnerability and victimhood. Strength is something that must constantly be externally affirmed and validated, rather than demonstrated through confident and robust assertion (as Margaret Thatcher once remarked, “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to remind people you are, you aren’t.”).

This stifling of agency doesn’t only occur in women who must conform to the model of the victim, but in men who must constantly affirm the strength of the women around them, while never developing or exerting their own manly strengths that might threaten them. In such contexts, the natural male instinct to protect women can result in an emasculated variety of male feminist. Such a person, concerned to validate the strength of women, will push for their indiscriminate admission to all of the traditional realms of male agonism, while holding them to much lower standards and seeking to restrict any expressions of manliness that might expose the inconvenient truth.

This also poses problems for women, who often have very conflicted feelings about the new feminist male. Such a man’s care and concern for her and protectiveness of her sense of self-worth are rightly appealing and such men can definitely be a welcome presence in the coeducational environment of the college, or the modern gender-neutral workplace. Yet, the fact that such men are all too often stunted in their development of robust manliness, not least because they have been denied homosocial male places within which to play to and grow in their strengths, is deeply unattractive. The conflict between the desire for the docile feminist man and desire for the feral manliness of men whose masculinity has developed, though never been cultivated by virtue, is a tragic one (Robert Stacy McCain’s recent review of Jessica Valenti’s memoirs really exposes this ugly dynamic).

Within a feminist society it is also incredibly difficult to engage in honest and fruitful discourse. The proclaimed vulnerability of women and the unwelcome character of certain statements underlie a profound social pressure to shut down unsettling or threatening discourse. Men must self-censor, come to women’s aid by closing down non-cooperative men, establish institutions to police permitted expression, and play their part in the propagation of obliging falsehoods.

It must be stressed that the rise of feminism is in large measure in reaction against deep and sustained injustices to women and that much that it brings to the table is essential. It is also a diverse movement, which includes many voices that express similar concerns for free speech that I am articulating here. However, in its currently prevailing forms, especially on college campuses, it has introduced a number of serious problems.

The gendered relational logic that undergirds the practice of the sorts of male and female discourse I have been describing differs in crucial respects. On the male side, the manly practice of agonistic discourse upholds a standard of honour within a rule-bound exchange. The goal of the exchange is to gain honour and one gains honour by winning by the rules. Men must put themselves on the line and win by playing by the rules of discourse if they are to gain honour. Honour is lost by breaking the rules, taking unfair advantages, avoiding direct engagement, failing to present a defence for your position, and other such behaviours. One gains honour through engaging in the rule-bound encounter. If the rules are well-defined and the encounter is well ordered and refereed (ensuring that wrath or ego do not take over), the manly drive for honour can be powerfully harnessed for the service of truth.

The primary gendered virtues of typical female social interaction don’t, however, so readily lend themselves to agonistic engagements over truth. Male social values tend to affix themselves chiefly to agency (strength, mastery, honour, etc.), which can more easily be abstracted from the immediacy of persons and must be proved through struggle. Female social values (care, empathy, equality, inclusion, etc.), by contrast, tend to focus chiefly upon persons. Agonistic engagement can often be perceived as an immediate contravention of these values and truth itself can be perceived as threatening. When this occurs, all rules of engagement can be abandoned and it is the person, rather than the argument, that is attacked.

It is important that we recognize how certain prevailing forms of feminism have exploited male (protection and concern for women’s opinion) and female codes of behaviour (care, equality, empathy, etc.) to establish a context of discourse that is resistant to the operations of challenging truth. Threatening claims can be dealt with by denying the speaker a platform, by appealing to third parties for assistance in removing them, by attacking reputations and poisoning the well, by demonizing or encouraging extreme suspicion of people outside of the group, by attacking a person’s presumed tone, by characterizing all rhetorical actions as veiled and illegitimate power ploys, by getting patron parties to police the discourse so that threatening positions can’t be voiced, by using the threat of social ostracization to get people to self-censor, etc. All of these are classic feminine modes of handling social conflict.

Feminism, gender, and race theory have also become human shields that prevent us from challenging key persons, agencies, social realities, and ideas directly. These theories serve to elevate and mobilize unhelpful instincts and to close down the discourse. The ad hominem character of much feminist argumentation is a result of the failure to manage and effectively to direct or restrict natural feminine social instincts for the purpose of effective discourse. When natural instincts have not been harnessed in the service of truth, not only have they been unbroken, they have also trampled over all of the rules of reasonable discourse.

Alt-Right Masculinism

When we start to take gender seriously again, I think that we will also begin to find some clues to the psychological appeal of the alt-right. Once again, the most important thing is to pay close attention to what is right in front of us. The alt-right are, in many respects a feral masculine reaction to the stifling and emasculating culture of political and academic discourse created by feminism.

I would be interested to know more about the demographics of the alt-right. My strong suspicion is that they are predominantly college-educated men with considerable knowledge of the inner world of our polite society, but who feel suppressed and marginalized by it, perhaps especially in their masculinity. They are probably not generally rural white people, but people on the periphery of the inner circles (the regime of political correctness, for instance, is largely focused upon elite colleges), people who chafe at the progressive values they encounter there. In any society where sanctioned forms of masculinity are emasculating, there will be a tendency for young men to pursue unsanctioned and destructive forms of masculinity. The alt-right is the dysfunctional masculinity movement that the stifling maternalism of progressivism has brought upon itself.

The alt-right are attracted to journalistic organs such as Breitbart, because they have the balls to tell offensive truths. The offensive character of the truth is desirable in itself, because this serves their acting out against progressivism’s hyper-vigilant maternalism. Violating the taboos and attacking the virtues of progressivism gives them a sense of liberation from its shackles. It once more brings them into an exhilarating relation with a masculine realm where dangerous truths exist, where civilization itself is at stake, where strength and courage are imperative, where non-combatants should get off the field, where we must put ourselves on the line. Where people cannot speak openly and fearlessly about difficult truths, and favour obliging lies or self-serving half-truths instead, there will come a point when certain people will start to react the stifling of truth for the sake of niceness and safety by throwing themselves into the pursuit of the most hateful truths they can find. Favoured terms of the alt-right such as ‘cuckservative’ reveal something of the psychology of the movement. Other conservatives are cuckolds, men who have consented to their own emasculation.

Although not straightforwardly a member of the alt-right himself, within the dense social world of Twitter, Milo Yiannopoulos was their queen bee. Milo’s gay flamboyance and narcissistic fabulousness was integral to what enabled him to work. In the socially saturated world of the new online Versailles, there must be the arresting spectacle of a Sun King to command our gaze.

Nor should it surprise us that Europe’s immigration crisis swiftly became the favoured Rorschach Test for this movement. To the sentimental maternalism of progressivism, immigrants appeared purely as vulnerable victims, their eyes attracted to the young women with their terrified children. Just as a mother may fancy her infant to be incapable of any wrong, so progressives constantly resisted the idea that the new arrivals on Europe’s shores might contain a significant criminal, violent, fraudulent, and terrorist element. The alt-right, however, saw a mass of young men like themselves, a population with a similar demographic composition to an army. They saw them being welcomed into European cities by women waving affirming banners, as if they were frightened toddlers. Breitbart delivered a steady drumbeat of stories of deception, rape, violence, and terrorism by new immigrants largely unreported in the mainstream press, with their regard for the ideological taboos of effete polite society. The young male readers of the site heard a summons to a reactive masculinism, to the rejection of the norms of polite society and a return to a baser tribalism.


Once again, the cracks of the current order are becoming apparent. The maternalistic order of feminized progressivism is provoking a counter-reaction and resistance even in its own ranks. However, the forms of this counter-reaction are unsettling. Rather than a wise and measured response to a dysfunctional situation, the alt-right all too often functions as if the passenger of untamed masculine instincts.

If we are to make progress, it will not be through submission to raw and antagonistic masculinism, but in the prudent, careful construction of societies and communities of discourse that harness both male and female social strengths, while counteracting their respective weaknesses and dangers.

An important part of this development, I believe, must be found in resistance both to complete gender integration on the one hand and to extreme gendered segregation on the other. We must recover the values of manliness: the future of a truthful and free society depends upon them. We must cultivate virtuous and honourable manliness in young men and save them from the clutches of feral masculinity. This requires the establishment and preservation of realms of male homosociality, where men are cultivated into mature masculinity, not least by members of an older generation. Such realms must be jealously guarded against intrusion by those who will not acknowledge and uphold their norms (C.S. Lewis has a fascinating discussion of the danger of the colonization and eradication of male community by women in his chapter on friendship in The Four Loves). In contrast to the puerility of much male homosociality today, we must value and restore forms of male homosociality that are productive, creative, thoughtful, and holy.

Each sex needs to learn how to create a space for the other. While agonistic discourse, for instance, may represent a social location primarily created and maintained by men, chiefly operating according to male rules, it should not be an exclusively male location. Rather, men should hold this space open for women to learn this pattern of discourse and to bring their own strengths to this arena, while tempering men’s weaknesses. The same can be said of the more collaborative forms of discourse in which women can excel. Both of the sexes must become the appreciative guests and students of each other.

We must teach both men and women to value the strengths and instincts of the other sex and to accommodate themselves to each other. We must teach men to understand, to honour, and to make space for women’s social instincts and expressions and vice versa. We must restore a posture of wonder towards the other sex in their subtle yet profound differences and eschew the posture of envy. Men and women can both easily fall into the error of disdaining those behaviours and instincts in the other sex that most contrast with their own. This must be firmly resisted. Both the giggling teenage girls with their relational dramas and the belligerent and tribal boys with their various obsessions are making their first faltering steps towards what may become noble virtues and aptitudes that can serve both them and society at large greatly in the future. Both should be celebrated and taken seriously.

However, in our society, as in so many previous ones, the failure to establish a just, equitable, and good harmony between the sexes has produced crises of truth and community. Unfortunately, we largely lack the voice or the vocabulary with which to speak of our problem. Perhaps in our current fraught social and political moment, we can begin to work to restore it.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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75 Responses to A Crisis of Discourse—Part 2: A Problem of Gender

  1. cal says:

    This was an excellent follow-up post, thank you for striking with lightening into this morass of internet commentaries.

    Looking back, I wonder if Lord of the Flies was less about children without the structures of adult society, but male homosociality unhinged, when the door to the (reproductive) future is closed. The child form prevents even more extreme and bizarre forms that one sees in jail (homosexuality for the purposes of hierarchy, territorialization, and a politics of luxury).

    One of the unique things about Trump’s electoral victory was that he attracted the golden number 30% of Latin voters. I wonder about a closer examination: were these mostly men? If so, I wonder if this would substantiate your claim about Trump’s speech as attractive to men with its air of matter-of-factness and no-BS straight talk.

    Though, I know it’s more complicated, I wonder if the beginnings of some of this in the Anglo-American context is the rise of Victorian values of respectability. The surface presented a growing homosocial division between men and women and highly fraught anxieties about spheres of life. But under the surface a whole world of vice and lust bubbled, with pornography and prostitution going through the roof in industrial centers. This time too saw a huge division between the lives of the wealthy and the poor. What I mean is not in terms of economic distribution (sadly, a constant in most places and times), but in terms of practices. The new bourgeoisie ruler-class, unlike aristocrats of old, could barely contain their disgust at the mingling of the working poor. This was an era where race-science was applied to the poor, an inferior race, corroded by laziness and incompetence. Such an explanation, perhaps, is a kind of identity politics to protect a socially anxious and precarious division.

    It was this period that continually bubbled with frustrations. The Progressive Era in the US was shot through with appeals to manliness over the sentimentality of tradition. The Nazis and Bolsheviks utilized similar tropes to attack the respectability of bourgeois moderates. Perhaps (and I’m thinking outloud), this is a sociological phenomenon that occurs over and over.

    Anyway, this is my 2 cents. Keep up the good work,

    • Thanks! I think that Ivan Illich’s book Gender probably identifies many of the important historic roots of the issue here, in the movement from a society built around gender to one built around industry, economy, state, etc.

  2. WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

    I wonder if male socialization is necessarily as reactionary (in relationship to female socialization) as the essay seems to present it as being. Roy Baumeister has proposed that what defines male social existence is that any one male, as an individual, has the potential to be disposable. Membership is conditional and contingent on passing muster for a base-line of participation in the negative sense or demonstrating enough productivity to merit a social role in the positive sense. Baumeister proposed that the common thread in delineating the difference between boys and men in cultures could be summed up as this–men produce for themselves and the social unit to which they belong than they consume from it. At the risk of invoking that concept in connection to the formerly Seattle-based Mark Driscoll, the “boys who can shave” are adult males who basically, for farious reasons, failed this “entrance exam” level of adult masculinity either by lack of opportunity or, in social critical terms, objectionable choice.

    In the 2000-2002 period Mark Driscoll settled on the idea that the remedy for the most toxic elements of masculinity was to establish initiation protocols for those who wanted to be useful and to, quite simply, give them things to do.

    But concurrent with Driscoll’s attempts at getting males to behave well there was another thread or two, and the culture-of-victimhood dynamic has been interesting to read about because there’s a strong vibe I get from guys interested in the alt right that they are, as you were saying Alastair, educated but in some sense on the margins of ruling castes. So there is a paradoxical sense in which a male alt-right advocate has in some sense appropriated feminist concepts and rhetoric when he describes men as being marginalized by society. There can seem to be ways in which the alt-right male, in reacting to feminism, paradoxically embodies what he regards as the self-pitying snow-flake dynamic he sees around him The way South Park satirized this pattern recently was in one character telling another internet troll “you’re not a warrior for political justice, you’re just some guy who can’t get laid.”

    And it seems after even a cursory survey of the man-o-sphere, whether or not a guy is actively in a sexual relationship seems to matter a lot. I have yet to come across men in the alt-right who have expressed much interest in a fairly traditional Christian ethical tradition regarding sex, celibacy. We could invert the proposal mentioned early in the piece, that men publicly agree to social rules in the interest of getting laid; it may be that those men who bridle at the “feminization” of society are men who resent not having sex of any kind or not having nearly as much sex as they believe they should be able to get under their circumstances. Here, too, Mark Driscoll could prove to have been an unusually memorable potential case study.

    As his reputation declined precipitously in the Seattle area between 2013 and 2014 it was interesting how Driscoll’s combative demeanor shifted to a victim narrative but not for himself, he’d begun to present his wife and children as beset by dangers from his adversaries. As more information about his private conduct began to be discovered these plays for sympathy seemed to become less effective, and perhaps the explanation for this is fairly simple, it’s traditionally hard to feel that bad for a man who after a decade of provocation begins hiding behind his wife and children rather than respond more directly to questions about his intellectual and literary integrity.

    The possibility of demographic study of the alt right sounds like an interesting sociological experiment. My hunch (which is just that, obviously) is that you’re right to guess that that many of them have at least some college education. It wouldn’t be a big surprise if many participants in the alt-right were men who lost their jobs in the “mancession” and had educational backgrounds that were not amenable to the shifts in the job market.

    • cal says:


      Even beyond the economic profile of the alt-right, I’d be curious about other social phenomena. How many grew up in homes with strong maternal figures? Were they raised in congregations (or the equivalent) where “feminine” virtues and sociability were inculcated? What precipitated the turn to “liberation”: breaking-point frustration? fraternity life? the shadow-remnants of yuppy misogyny?

      But, as a side comment, I occasionally see Christian bloggers/writers identify down the lines of alt-right (similarly with Progressives) trying to put some gloss on it. So, yeah, let’s kill the barbarians and f&%# things up, but we won’t have sex before we’re married because that’s for betas (I’m pretty sure this is the way Driscoll sort of functioned).

      It seems as though Evangelicals (whether left or right) seem to produce knock-off brands in attempting to cash in on popular ideological movements. With the victory of Trump, I expect to see more of these, even as it causes a divide from those who, shaking their head, turn deeper into Progressive tropes (picking up all the recent “shame” and “shock” language) to reach the New Left. It’s odd.


      • WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

        or … to flip things around, how many of them had absentee/abusive fathers? This was Driscoll’s primary stump speech issue over twenty some years of public address. “Where’s dad?” was a rhetorical question regarding absentee or abusive father figures and the inadequacies Driscoll believed were inevitably brought to bear by mothers and mother figures who were not equipped to model healthy male behavior and socialization. It seems, at length, the men leading at Mars Hill believed that with a robust enough of a peer group men could learn how to be men from their peer group and … well … that seems to have not panned out.

    • Thanks for the comment. To clarify, I wasn’t presenting male sociality as fundamentally reactionary, even though de-identification from the world of women (and children) is a necessary dimension of it. Rather, I was identifying ‘one of several purposes’ that manliness plays.

  3. WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

    the “weaponized sacredness” essay was helpful for me as I was blogging about Mars Hill because the concept of preference falsification made quite a bit of sense of how people who did not feel like leaving Mars Hill in Seattle did feel like sharing things directly or indirectly that were of concern to them. People objected to leadership decisions within the Mars Hill culture but felt unable to voice those objections without fear of reprisals, reprimand, or ostracism (and since 2008 Driscoll had a set a precedent of figuratively, if not literally, regarding dissent as demonic).

    Given how spectacularly polling failed to predict the electoral college outcome preference falsification may be something we’ll have to keep in mind at an electoral level, per Jonathan Pie’s passionate rant in the wake of last week’s announcement. What may be strangest about this year is that the Democratic party but also the mainstream press misunderstood or missed altogether the extent to which they may have been resentfully viewed as ruling castes.

    An idea for possible future consideration–it seems that academics regard the most pernicious ruling class as a financial caste of bankers and investors that could be regarded as a patriarchy; while the alt right and traditional conservatives seem to bridle at the academy as a malevolent nanny state. It seems that the caste animosities have been very explicitly gendered and discussed in explicitly gendered terms. Having come to view both the academic and financial establishments as having serious problems it seems as though the tragicomedy of the left/right scapegoating process is that the temptation has been for the two groups to scapegoat just the ruling caste the left and right, respectively, don’t see themselves as being members of.

  4. quinnjones2 says:

    Hi Alastair,
    It sounds as if you will be able to be more true to yourself if this is a MEN ONLY discussion:
    ‘Mixed company is a realm of politeness and niceness, where men have to rein themselves in and hold themselves back.’
    ‘Men spend their whole lives learning to hold themselves back in female company.’
    ‘Protecting women and their feelings frequently takes priority over truth and honour in argument.’
    So I will now do you the honour of absenting myself from any discussion about your article 🙂

    • Ha!

      You really shouldn’t leave! You have been an active commenter here for a number of years now. In fact, apart from me, you are the most regular commenter on this blog. You have never once tried to prevent this blog from being a place of direct discourse and argument, but have recognized and respected its character. I realize that occasionally it hasn’t been to your taste and you have taken a half-step back for a little while. That is a very different thing from preventing combative or challenging conversation from taking place.

      By your consistent presence in the comments you have made this blog a better and a friendlier place. You have helped to moderate several arguments, all without trying to prevent people from speaking honestly, even when they have been expressing things that many would find too challenging or offensive.

      Your presence and activity here is a perfect illustration of the benefits of mutual hospitality and learning that I discussed at the end of the post. This is a very male place—almost all of the people who comment here are male, likely along with most of the readers. However, your generous presence helps us all to think of ways to improve—to make space for people who aren’t arguing men!—without ceasing to be who we are, or making this place something other than it is. It is a process of growing together and learning from each other.

      This is exactly what we all need. So please stay! 🙂

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Thank you for your gracious comment, Alastair 🙂 I tend to be the same when I listen to sermons – if the preacher says that some of us need to pull our socks up in one way or another, I usually sit there wondering if I am one the culprits!
        I shall keep reading all the comments here – and they keep coming! – and no doubt I will chime in with some observation before much longer.

    • katie says:

      As a woman who learns a great deal from agonistic discourse, as Alastair puts it, I sometimes feel myself more out of place in chatty situations with other women, but I can also appreciate how my presence or input can change the tenor of a conversation among men. Eavesdropping on the internet is a lovely solution! But I would hope a feminine voice in a masculine context would not always be unwelcome – we have much to learn from each other.

      • Absolutely! An important part of the purpose of making spaces that bear our distinct characters is that they might become sites of our transformation through practice of the art of hospitality.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Hi Katie,
        I say Amen to Alastair’s response to you.
        Also: ‘Eavesdropping on the internet…’ – yes, eavesdropping on all-male dialogues has often been an education for me, and especially on Alastair’s site 🙂

  5. Craig Beard says:

    Please gather all the parts of this thread into one of your ebooks. Thanks.

    • The other posts have videos and Twitter links that might make that difficult. Besides, much within them is specifically addressed to this juncture in time. I might do something with some of this post, though.

  6. quinnjones2 says:

    Just some thoughts about ‘The Queen Bee’ – Hillary. I have just looked at her concession speech again and I particularly focussed on this, which came towards the end of her speech:
    ‘To all the women, and especially the young women, who put their faith in the campaign and in me, I want you to know that nothing has made me more proud than to be your champion …I know that ..we have not shattered that glass ceiling, but someday someone will, and sooner than we might expect right now.’ ‘We’ …she identified with the women and they identified with her, as you highlighted in this comment, Alastair: ‘The queen bee becomes the vehicle for her adorers’ own psychodrama.’
    Maybe it is good for Hillary to see herself as a role model for younger women – sometimes it is good and proper for a woman to be Head of State, and for other women to aspire to such a position. Yet I felt disquieted by the weight that Hillary gave in her campaign to the fact that she was a woman. I have not heard of Theresa May or Angela Merkel making much ado about the fact that they are *women* leaders – they just seem to get on with the job. The thought occurred to me – I didn’t want to think it, but I thought it anyway – that Hillary’s motives may not have been entirely altruistic and that perhaps personal ambition was a factor, as if she wanted to go down in history as the first woman who gained supremacy over men in the highest office in the land, as if winning were more important than serving her country. (Unfortunately I also think that Donald Trump is more interested in winning than in serving.)

    • Yes, this is spot on. Progressives tend to focus a lot on ‘first X to do/be Y’ stories, and upon the ideals of equality and inclusion. As a result, they placed a huge emphasis upon the mere fact that Hillary Clinton was a woman. They also hold the expectation that everything and everyone should adapt to that fact, in order to show that women are equal to men. Clinton was made to stand for her entire sex. When anything was done to her that seemed unfair, it was an attack upon all women.

      By contrast, on the right, or in contexts where progressive ideology is less operative, highly gifted women simply get on and do the job, rising to high status because they’ve proved that they can do it, without expecting special treatment, or everything to adapt to them. They recognize that the game of politics is strongly male-weighted, but also recognize that in many respects it needs to be. They then prove that women can play such a game very effectively too. And they enjoy the same sort of honour as their male peers as a result.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        I’m confused on a point regarding progressive support for and identification with Clinton: Younger women supported Sanders over Clinton, but it’s precisely the younger women who are likely to be part of the campus left; or at least, to be a student-member of the campus left, if not a faculty-member of the campus left.

      • Good question. I think there are a number of factors here.

        Most young women aren’t on campus and, even of those who are, many are fairly ambivalent in their feminism. Perhaps even fewer are active members of the campus left. Feminists claim to speak for women, but, certainly in the UK, the vast majority of women don’t identify with feminism. Likewise, left-wing campus movements tend to make a big noise, but often do not speak for the majority, even on the left. The Lena Dunhams, Amanda Marcottes, and their like are prominent voices online, but their voices don’t carry as far as we might presume beyond the world of campus and online feminism.

        Identification and relatability are huge factors in many young women’s forms of sociality. However, Clinton greatly overplayed this card. Beyond the fact of her sex, apart from die hard feminists, relatively few young women found her particularly relatable, and certainly not relatable enough to override the many substantive issues they had with her.

        Younger women are also probably fairly confident that they will see a female president in their lifetimes. The election of an older female Washington insider just doesn’t resonate with them in the same way as it does with women who have grown up through the era of second wave feminism. It doesn’t fit into their life stories. Also, Clinton’s attempts to connect have been, let’s say … embarrassing.

        When it comes to the campus left, Clinton really doesn’t fit in that strongly with many of the other things that they most care about. She may speak in favour of the Black Lives Matter movement, for instance, but she couldn’t shake the fact that she was the status quo candidate.

        As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, the progressive left is often dominated by feminist voices. However, this really does not mean that such voices are numerically dominant. Rather, due to the dynamics of progressive discourse on the left, their voices are privileged. In my experience of university, certain angry, vocal, and ideological left-wing activists tended to dominate in student unions and other institutions. They had huge influence and a powerful voice, but they were definitely not representative of the wider student population, even of those on the left. Most found them annoying but just let them get on with their thing, provided that they didn’t push too far. I suspect that things haven’t changed that much. Most people on the campus left are probably not very ideological, but the campus left is dominated by ideological voices.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        ‘…However this does not mean that such voices are numerically dominant…’ There seems to be a similar pattern with the LGBT population. I got the impression from media coverage (including Twitter) that there were far more LGBT people than there actually are and I was surprised when I found in 2015 UK statistics that 1.7% identified as LGB, 93.7% as heterosexual/straight, and the remainder as ‘other’, ‘don’t know’ or refused to respond.

      • This is extremely telling on that front. The average guess for the number of gay and lesbian people in the population is 25%. 35% of people think that there are more than that. These guesses aren’t remotely near the true figure. This is probably because LGBT persons and issues are so prominent in the entertainment and news media. Perceptions are greatly skewed by the prominence of voices.

      • evan773 says:

        The difference between the 25% figure and the 1.7% figure depends a lot on whether one is asking about sexual orientation or about social identity. This reason why this disparity is confusing is because we tend to buy into the Freudian notion of “orientation essentialism,” where sexual orientation is seen as essential to social identity. Concomitant with that is the tendency to pathologize sexual orientations that depart in any way from pure heterosexuality. See, e.g., Denny Burk, Tim Bayly, etc.

        If we return to pre-Freudian notions of sexuality and disabuse ourselves of our enslavement to orientation essentialism, these numbers make perfect sense. Most people arrive at the 25-35% figure because it’s an indirect way of acknowledging their own sexual fluidity, even as they live an outwardly straight existence. Opposite-sex coupling makes sense for any number of reasons besides giving credence to heterosexuality. That likely explains why 97% of people who identify as bisexual partner with people of the opposite-sex.

        The error that social conservatives make in fighting for traditional marriage lies in their refusal to disabuse themselves of Freudian notions of orientation essentialism. They want to believe the lie that 98.3% of the world is completely heterosexual and that those who aren’t suffer from some kind of pathology. That, however, is not the traditional position. Christians have traditionally (until the past 100 years) accepted that sexual orientation is somewhat variable, but have not treated that variability as being any more important than hair color or height. Even so, we did not seek to pathologize this variability or limit marriage to those who have the “right” sexual orientation. Rather, sexual orientation was merely a factor to be considered in evaluating compatibility.

        I’m asexual, and generally have no interest in sex whatsoever. The responses to asexuality within evangelicalism have been interesting. It’s something of a hot potato, and people just run from the topic. The instinctive desire within evangelicalism is to condemn it as sinful (because it’s different from the normative position), but people struggle with coming up with a reason to condemn it. For example, when I was in my 20s, a PCA pastor refused to perform my marriage, and took steps to break up my engagement because he believed that marriage should be reserved for men who possessed a robust heterosexuality. Now that I’ve jettisoned organized Christianity (mainly for the alt-right), I’ve found plenty of women with whom I’m perfectly compatible. Oddly enough, the supposedly macho world of the alt-right is far more accepting of non-heterosexual orientations than evangelicalism. The alt-right is merely opposed to non-heterosexual social identities. In that sense, the alt-right seems to mark a return to a more traditional (pre-Freudian) view of sexuality that evangelicals still refuse to make.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Wow! The misconceptions are even worse than I thought they were. It’s got me thinking about the extent to which our attitudes can be influenced by which people we listen to, and what we read. I’m also struck by the extent to which some people I know seem to have no interest in suspending their judgement until they have checked out the facts. One small example of this is a college friend whose main contact with me was a Christmas card and an annual newsletter about her life. In one letter she commented that she already knew all my news because she had heard it from X, who had heard it from Y. I wasn’t even in contact with X and I was taken aback that my college friend was happy to accept X’s ‘Chinese whispers’ version of my news, but had no interest in hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak!

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Just to clarify – my 6.27a.m post (beginning with ‘Wow!’) is a response to Alastair’s 6.36 p.m. post ( beginning with ‘Yes, this is spot on.’) It looks as if my post is a response to your 6.17 a.m. post, Evan, a post I have in fact only just read! I must have hit a wrong button!

  7. evan773 says:

    Nice piece of writing that addresses some difficult topics.

    Earlier this year, I read Jane Ward’s book, “Not Gay.” In her book, Ward explores the ways in which straight-identifying, white males manufacture social opportunities for engaging in homoerotic conduct, even while situating that conduct in a manner that reinforces the participants’ masculinity. The book focused way too much on racial aspects, i.e., the fact that the culture doesn’t extend the same privileges to non-white men. Even so, Ward does a good job of demonstrating that male sexuality is far more complex than we tend to admit as a culture. In fact, men often tend to lie to themselves concerning that complexity. Ward made one observation that particularly stood out to me. That observation concerned the role of women in upholding the social codes that prevented men from admitting that they are anything other than 100% heterosexual. Ward notes that most men and women will admit to experiencing sexual fluidity themselves. Moreover, men’s perceptions of women’s fluidity is consistent with the women’s self-assessment of their fluidity. But the converse is not true. Women were generally incredulous concerning men’s experience of sexual fluidity, and were even uneasy with the thought of it. Women were much more comfortable with the belief that men are either purely straight or purely gay.

    Ward devoted little effort to exploring that point. But it interested me because it reveals the role that women play in upholding and enforcing the binary conception of men’s sexuality. I often think about this when I swim. I swam in high school, and have continued to swim for fitness. I’ve never felt the need to stop wearing a Speedo for lap swimming. I’ve tried the jammer shorts, but only like the ones that cost over $100/pair. So, I stick with my $18 briefs. Despite the fact that I have a BMI of 20 and look perfectly fine in my briefs, I’ve often overheard women at the pool gossiping about how “gross” I am and speculating about my sexuality. By contrast, I’ve run across plenty of men who admit their jealousy of the fact that my wife/girlfriend lets me wear a Speedo. They tell stories of being forced to give up their swim briefs because their wives or girlfriends objected that the briefs made them look gay. And I’ve not just heard this from 2-3 guys at the pool. I’ve heard it from dozens of guys. And although it’s merely an anecdote, I think it reveals the ways in which women tend to encode and enforce overly rigid notions of masculinity for the purpose of making men feel sexually inadequate, all in an effort to secure power for themselves in the relationship.

    The alt-right is attractive to many men because it represents something of a recovery of masculinity on men’s terms, not women’s terms. I’ve often felt that the view of masculinity promoted within evangelical circles is little more than disguised femininity. It gives men the appearance of authority, but forces them to live within such rigid strictures that the authority is of little value. The alt-right, by contrast, offers a view of masculinity that has authority that’s actually of value. That’s because one has that authority merely because one is a man, and not because one conforms to some women-created conception of manhood–whether those women be politically correct feminists or evangelical church ladies. That’s why Donald Trump’s comments to Billy Bush actually helped him. With those comments, he reclaimed ownership of manhood from women. Sure, it would be better if it had been done in a more tactful way. But, for many men, that was less important than the fact that it began the process of reclaiming manhood from their female overseers. And, if sales of Fifty Shades of Gray is any indicator, many women–although not all–are looking for more men to own their manhood.

    When I was visiting my blue-collar hometown a few weeks ago in the American Midwest, I stopped by Tim Horton’s and saw a truck parked outside bearing about a dozen “Trump That B1tch” bumper stickers. I wondered what “deplorable” man would go out and hop inside. To my surprise, the driver was a 50-year-old woman. Last Tuesday proved that more women would rather be Tammy Wynette than Lena Dunham. And they’re looking for men who will let them do it.

  8. quinnjones2 says:

    I gather that it is International Mens’ Day today.
    It’s also International Toilet Day…

  9. MG says:

    ‘One must become a man through a process of socialization into strength, honour, courage, and mastery (as Jack Donovan has enumerated the traits of manliness).’

    Surely not this Jack Donovan: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Donovan! I would rather wish, if it is indeed the same man, that you would qualify this definition of ‘manliness’ in some degree, to reflect not only your awareness (and, I trust, rejection) of Donovan’s frankly bizarre beliefs, but also to acknowledge the sheer narrowness of the definition. A ‘culture of dignity’, as you may realize (but do not I think say), is hardly just an invention of the 18th and 19th centuries, as the linked post by Haidt implies that Campbell and Manning have argued. Surely the honorific titles, the insistence on the sharing of honores (i.e. offices, as a concrete political proof of honor), the focus on dignitas and gravitas, that one finds in a Republican Roman such as Cicero, let alone in late Imperial authors, implies that such a ‘culture of dignity’ has been present before in the history of our own civilization, and in some of its most formative epochs. This does not mean that Roman emperors, senators, equestrians, and local bigwigs did not also inhabit a culture of honor, but it was one modified and (I dare say) civilized by the expectation that education and personal virtue would accompany the rawer sorts of ‘manly strength’ (interestingly, the primary significance of virtus, i.e. ‘manliness’, seems to shift from ‘courage in battle’ to ‘virtue’ roughly in Cicero’s day, and largely by his efforts at philosophical translation and interpretation, though the evidence is debated). In that light, Donovan’s definition strikes me as strangely martial and, well, Medieval: good enough for a knight who need only know how to fight and kill and maybe pray, but hardly sufficient for men living in a more sophisticated, cultured, and peaceful civil society. The manliness of a civilian cannot be the manliness of a soldier, though it is not wholly distinct from it.

    P.S. Any thoughts on Scott Alexander’s post on Trump: http://slatestarcodex.com/2016/11/16/you-are-still-crying-wolf/ ? If he crunches the numbers rightly, all this alt-right stuff is more an invention of media worrying than anything that really has a meaningful political following, however it may look from the perspective of the internet.

    • I don’t know about Donovan’s other positions, but his The Way of Men is a stimulating read, though I disagreed with much of it (it is the only thing I’ve read of his). They have a podcast episode with him over on The Art of Manliness (a fairly conservative Christian take on the subject), which was the first time I came across him.

      Donovan’s definition of manliness is a fairly good heuristic definition. It can be taken in a very martial sense, but it really doesn’t need to be. The same fundamental traits are sublimated in many ways. ‘Strength’ could be physical, emotional, intellectual, psychological, moral, spiritual, etc., for instance. The more martial dimensions probably do have a degree of primacy, however, as they are the more primordial form of the trait.

      The paper on dignity culture is worth reading for a fuller development of the concept. It isn’t something developed entirely de novo in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but there is a definitive and decisive cultural shift in that direction.

      Scott Alexander’s post is important push back against some of the hyperventilation, but really not the full story. Ross Douthat has some helpful tweets in response to it.

  10. quinnjones2 says:

    So according to Sky news Queen Elizabeth is reportedly going to invite Donald Trump to Windsor Castle on an official state visit to the UK. If that happens, I would love to be a fly on the wall 🙂

  11. Physiocrat1 says:

    I’m a bit late to the party but anyway. A very stimulating piece and props for a Jack Donovan reference.

    I’m in agreement that more heterotopic (added to my personal lexicon) spaces are required however I do think that exclusive male and female arenas are necessary especially the former. Whilst it is certainly true that both sexes can benefit each other with their methods of dialogue there is always the possibility of a takeover (this is more likely with women trying to take over a male arena as some women are concerned that it weakens their influence over them) so to retain the unique spaces I propose five different styles of space.

    1. Entirely male.
    2. Male run and according to male rules but females are allowed entry.
    3. Entirely mixed in rules and leadership
    4. Female run and according to female rules but men are allowed entry
    5. Entirely female.

    My reading of you is that you think only 2 to 4 should exist.

    In regards female comedy. I really think that Austen merely proves the rule. This is entirely anecdotal but my wife does not find nor remembers any of her female friends to be funny whatsoever- I have also not encountered a particularly funny woman. Another point that is relevant here is that women place much more value on a potential spouse (for whatever reason) being funny than vice versa so we’d expect men to at least attempt to be funny more often.

    • Thanks for the comment.

      No, I believe that it is very important for all of the different categories of spaces you mention to exist. Men do need spaces which are exclusive to them, and women likewise. My concern, however, is that these spaces be maintained in a manner that isn’t inhospitable to women in the wider society and vice versa.

      Male only spaces can easily lead to the squeezing of women out of certain areas of activity and society, which we must avoid. The segregated spaces that men and women enjoy must be ordered towards the greater telos of mutual and shared service, rather than to ends that are gender exclusive. Each gender has its own particular ends, but these ends are subordinated to our shared ends. We do not exist as distinct genders for our own sakes, but such a mindset can easily creep in at such a point. All of our places must be subjected to the criterion of whether they better equip us to serve each other and to serve with each other. We must beware of the gendered antagonisms that often frame practices here.

      Again, this is only anecdotal, but I know some tremendously funny women.

  12. quinnjones2 says:

    ‘The segregated spaces that men and women enjoy must be ordered towards the greater telos of mutual and shared service’: I have been thinking over the last few days about space and particularly about the internal bodily space of women. A woman’s body is created in such a way that she can receive others into her internal bodily space – in conjugal relations and in carrying an unborn child in her womb. I seems to me that this bodily receptiveness extends to a woman’s capacity to receive others into her ‘space’ in other contexts. A man is not created to receive others into his bodily space and it seems to me that it is therefore more challenging for men to receive others – and especially women – into their ‘space’ in other contexts. When men meet this challenge and receive women into their ‘space’ in creative and constructive ways it is therefore to be celebrated.

  13. Just heard this (from 43:52), which quite strikingly points to the fact that gender was a predicting factor of egalitarian and authoritarian political correctness (even after controlling for personality).

    • quinnjones2 says:

      I have just listened to some of this and although I have picked up the names Brian Callen and Jordan Peterson I have not yet managed to match names to voices. Please could enlighten me? Now if this was a conversation between a man and a woman, I wouldn’t be having this problem 🙂

    • quinnjones2 says:

      Thank you! I wondered if Brian Callan might have been discussing Jordan Peterson with a third person. The one I thought was Brian Callan seemed to be talking at great speed and including more statements than questions. I’ll listen to it again.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        I have just read the post about ‘Pronoun Wars’ via Alastair’s Links. If I were working on a University campus (and thank goodness I’m not!) I might be tempted to discipline myself to avoid the use of pronouns altogether and to refer to people consistently by name or, if appropriate, as ‘this person’, ‘that person’, ‘the former’. ‘the latter’ … This would be tedious and farcical, but not as farcical as the Pronoun Wars!

    • quinnjones2 says:

      I still don’t know quite what to think about the audio but I just watched the video featured in the Christie Blatchford article via Alastair’s links and I think that from the point of view of upholding freedom of speech, this takes some beating:
      ‘…I’m not going to be a mouthpiece for language that I detest. And that’s THAT!’
      (Though I’m not sure how it fares from the point of view of reasoned debate or from the legal point of view 🙂

  14. quinnjones2 says:

    I think many suns will set before my thoughts on the audio will crystallize.
    In the meantime I have been re-reading a book from my bookshelf and I would like to share an excerpt which I hope will be of interest. The words are taken from the Epilogue of ‘To be a Woman’ ( a compilation of articles written by several women – and also a couple written by men. This book was edited by Connie Zweig and published back in 1990, but I think that it still has relevance today.

    So here is the excerpt*:
    ‘The task that is being asked of us is that we make a quantum leap out of the duality of matriarchy and patriarchy. When women are released from being holders of the relating function, we will have more creative energy to go forth. When men are released from being bullies and heroes in reaction against the powerful mother figure, they will have more energy to go forth.
    So the task of transformation is not to be left on women’s shoulders just because it is our voice that has seemingly been repressed. The voice of the Masculine also has been repressed and it too needs to be reborn.’

    *From ‘Ode to the Feminine’ by Marian Rose (Marian was described in the book as a dance ceremonialist in San Francisco)

    • My impression of that quotation is that it doesn’t really take anywhere near enough account of the possibility that we act in the ways that we do, not primarily because society tells us too, but because we incline that way naturally. These different inclinations are already visible in boys’ and girls’ typical toy and play preferences, even before they develop an understanding of gender.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        At the same time, I think it’s important to note that we can improvise very different melodies against these bass lines of gender; and sometimes the most skillful melodies are the ones that, superficially, seem to clash most strongly.

        For instance, one of my favorite Christmas songs is This Little Babe from Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols.

        This Little Babe
        This little babe just three days old,
        Is come to rifle Satan’s fold
        All hell doth at his presence quake,
        though he himself for cold do shake;
        For in this weak unarmored wise
        the gates of hell he will surprise.

        With tears he fights and wins the field,
        his naked breast stands for a shield.
        His battering shot are babish cries,
        his arrows looks of weeping eyes.
        His martial ensigns Cold and Need,
        and feeble flesh his warrior’s steed.

        His camp is pitched in a stall,
        his bulwark but a broken wall;
        The crib his trench, haystalks his stakes,
        of shepherds he his muster makes.
        And thus as sure his foe to wound,
        the angels’ trumps alarum sound

        My soul with Christ
        join thou in fight;
        stick to the tents
        that he hath pight.
        Within his crib
        is surest ward;
        this little Babe
        will by thy guard.

        If thou wilt foil thy
        foes with joy, then
        flit not from this
        heavenly boy!

        In one sense, this is a straight-forward martial poem that fits perfectly with the ideal of masculinity. Christ is “come to rifle Satan’s fold…all hell doth at his presence quake…the gates of hell he will surprise.” And each member of the congregation exhorts themselves to “join thou in fight, stick to the tents that he hath pight.”

        But what makes the poem interesting is the way it frames Christ’s infantile feebleness as martial strength. “His martial ensigns Cold and Need, and feeble flesh his warrior’s steed.”

        In that tension, both his weakness, and the strength that is that weakness, are emphasized, and highlighted. Without the martial imagery, the weakness, and the paradoxical strength of this weakness, would not be nearly so emphasized. Without the weakness though, the martial character would be straight-forwardly militaristic, and so would be delighting in something weaker and less lasting than this weakness.

        Something similar is seen in The Lord of the Rings. Both Boromir and the hobbits want to defeat Sauron; and the strategies that both pursue require extreme feats of strength. But they require different sorts of strength. Frodo and Sam exhibit fortitude, strong bonds of friendship, high courage; and Boromir seeks to win through strategies that also rely on fortitude friendship and courage. But their strategies are different in the overt display of virtue; and in that Frodo and Sam conquer not by seizing mastery of their neighbors, but by sowing, in a particular way, the seed of their flesh (and the elves do the same), whereas Boromir wishes to seize mastery, and though willing to die, he only chances death that, in another sense, he and his people can escape death.

      • Yes, this is definitely true. As I’ve noted elsewhere, it would be a grave mistake to establish an identity between manliness and martial traits. Martial traits can be a form of manliness, but they are merely one form among very many (I already mentioned manliness displayed in moral, emotional, physical, psychological, spiritual, and intellectual forms but others could be listed).

        There are forms of manliness that are relatively common, but others that are quite surprising, rare, peculiar, and even paradoxical. The weakness of an infant is certainly not manly as such. However, in the incarnation, there is a sort of manliness to be found in this rarest of forms, as the profound weakness of the infant is on this unique occasion associated with the agency of the eternal Son.

        It is, however, important to recognize that, although manliness can take many forms, there are clear limits to the forms that it can take. Specific conditions need to be met for something or someone to be manly.

        I am wary of unhelpful forms of code-switching and transvaluation coming in at such points of paradox, emptying important terms of their meaning (see also biblical paradoxes of rich/poor, weak/strong, master/servant, etc.). That manliness can even be seen in the guise of this one infant shouldn’t be employed to weaken the significance of the term, but to fill it out.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        The blockquote formatting didn’t work. Sorry for the error.

  15. quinnjones2 says:

    Yes, different natural inclinations between male and female do become apparent in very young children in, for instance, their toy and play preferences. I looked again at Marian’s entire Ode to check for any mention of behaviour being related to natural inclinations and found a hint of it in this: ‘But the Feminine is the feeling function, the relation function, eros and sexuality, supporting and honouring the earth and her life forms.’ I think that ‘eros and sexuality’ are also part of ‘the Masculine’. I don’t actually agree with some of what Marian wrote (or with some of what I read in other articles in the book, for that matter!) What I do like is Marion’s suggestion that both men and women need to lift some burden off each others’ shoulders. I do believe that some of these burdens are imposed on us by social expectations – for instance there seems to be a social ‘rule’ that ‘boys don’t cry’ and I am certainly ready to my bit towards denting that ‘rule’, because I think it puts undue pressure on boys and men.

    • Yes, there are particular social burdens that can rest on each sex. Men being expected not to cry is one that is often mentioned.

      However, I fear that this is one area where we are at risk of treating women’s behaviour as the healthy norm for both sexes, when men are more likely to process their emotions in rather different ways. Speaking just from my own personal experience, I have never felt that I ought not to cry as a man. Even so, the last time I remember crying over something in my life was over a decade ago. The last time I cried about anything was a few years ago, at an especially shocking report about war crimes in the DRC. The brutality was just so appalling and the suffering of the victims so extreme that I wept for the country and its people. A number of male friends have described a similar relationship with crying: when they feel the need to cry, they don’t believe that there is anything stopping them, but they hardly ever need to cry.

      It is interesting that crying and the emotional processes associated with it are commented on by several transsexual persons taking hormones. These taking testosterone often remark upon the fact that crying no longer brings the same sort of emotional relief, while those taking oestrogen remark upon the fact that they found themselves welling up at the smallest things. Testosterone inhibits crying and men also have larger tear ducts (which means that their tears well up more before coming out).

      More generally, men and women tend to deal with emotion differently. Self-control, which might include purposefully refraining from crying, is one of the more effective ways that men deal with stress, while women tend to deal with stress more with emotionality. There’s nothing wrong with a man crying, but there are good reasons why men cry a lot less than women.

      The ‘men should cry more’ position is a good one if it means that society shouldn’t stigmatize crying men. However, a lot of the time it is just one of the many ways that men are told that they should be more like women, rather than attending carefully to the more distinct ways that men achieve a sense of well-being. For instance, how many people really care about the problem of a sense of emasculation among the dependent poor? I suspect if we got past the political incorrectness of talking about the need to honour and provide expression for the manliness of poor men, we might make a lot more progress on tackling issues of abuse, violence, men taking refuge in porn and video games, etc.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Yes, hormones affect emotions and men and women have different hormones, so they will inevitably be different emotionally. My concern about some men believing that they must not cry is that the higher suicide rate in males has been attributed to the fact that some men ‘bottle up’ their emotions for a long time and are then suddenly overwhelmed by an avalanche of feeling that they can’t cope with – their years of self-control leave them ill-equipped to cope with it. (I have no links to this handy – sorry – but I have read it.)
        Before I leap to any wrong conclusions about what you mean by ‘a sense of emasculation in the dependent poor’, please could you elaborate on this a bit?

      • The higher suicide rate in males almost certainly has a lot more to do with other factors. I’ve encountered the claims you mention several times too. I’ve checked on several occasions, but have yet to find anything approaching convincing evidence that higher male rates of suicide have anything to do with men not crying.

        The claim that high male suicide rates have to do with men not crying is typically related to the suggestion that ‘the patriarchy hurts men too.’ Men are supposedly forced by society to bottle up their emotions and cannot process them. This is commonly claimed by feminists as evidence that men should support feminism. However, almost invariably, no evidence is given for that particular connection.

        The possible element of truth to that theory probably has nothing whatsoever to do with crying. Rather, it is a matter of men not getting help, which is a different thing. Crying doesn’t help men deal with stress as much as it helps women, but social and professional help can make a difference.

        Some of the measures that would really make a huge difference for many men, such as having more male contexts of community (as many men are isolated, socially and emotionally, without this), aren’t spoken of so much, because they push against feminist ideals. Having strong male communities can be emotionally enriching and supportive for many men, provides contexts where we can be more emotionally open (it is often a great deal easier for many men to be emotionally open with other men than it is for them to be emotionally open with women), and contexts where we can develop a sense of manliness that improves our well-being.

        The evidence that men don’t commit suicide more often because of patriarchal pressure to hide their feelings is manifold:

        1. Men actually attempt suicide at around the same rate as women or less. They are just much more likely to be successful in their attempts. This is because men are more likely to use violent and extreme methods of suicide (guns, hanging, jumping from a great height, etc.). Women tend to rely more upon overdosing, which is much more likely to fail or allow for an intervention before the medication takes effect.

        2. The lowest rates of male suicide in the world are found, in order, in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Kuwait, Iraq, Oman, Lebanon, Jamaica, Jordan, Libya, and Algeria. Let’s just say that none of these countries are poster boys for feminism!

        In many contexts, higher rate of male suicide may result, not so much from the internal emotional pressure of the patriarchy, which leads men to bottle up their feelings, as from the greater social burden of responsibility that is placed on men. In most countries, for instance, a man losing his job is a far more devastating blow on many levels (financially, within the life of the family, psychologically, etc.) than a woman losing her job would be. Likewise, divorce can hit men harder, as they are less likely to have access to their children. Men are generally also much more vulnerable to social isolation.

        Isolation is a huge factor here, I think. In individualistic societies, men are much less likely to have strong support networks, especially as we move around a lot for work. The traditional social networks of male companions and friends are weak and have often been explicitly attacked as sexist. If we wanted to make a real dent on rates of suicide among men, I think we should focus on restoring male companionship.

        On the ‘sense of emasculation among the dependent poor’ it might be helpful to compare the condition of different generations of young men in a mining village where the pit has been closed. In the former generation, the men didn’t just have jobs, but also enjoyed dignity, camaraderie, a sense of purpose, agency, strength, courage, and honour in their work. Their work may often have been grim and difficult, but it could offer them a place to develop a sense of manliness. Their sons, who now live on the dole, may have more material goods and better health prospects, but they have suffered a tragic loss of the means by which to attain to manliness. One can often see a deep enervation of spirit among such men, when there is no easy way for them to achieve manliness. Perhaps the army is the only route for many of them. Beyond this, petty crime, promiscuous sexual relations, sports, violence, extreme physical exercise, video games, porn, etc. can be routes for salvaging some sense of manliness and things like drugs and drink means of escaping the despair. Working in unreliable jobs in the gender neutral atmosphere of the modern service industry, where they must constantly hold themselves back and suppress their masculine tendencies can be wearying. It simply does not offer the same sense of self-worth, shared manly identity, or deep community. There is a very deep existential hunger here that is being neglected. A man cannot live on handouts or the wages of precarious jobs alone.

      • The other thing to bear in mind is that there are significant differences between the sexes in rates of specific mental illness and psychological distress. We should generally beware of presuming that equality between the sexes in specific problems is the natural norm.

        We want to lower rates of suicide for both sexes, but often this may require recognition that risk factors and means of help really differ between them.

  16. quinnjones2 says:

    Yes, I think that men not getting help is a significant factor in the higher rate of male suicide and that it is possibly, or even probably, a more significant factor than bottling up their feelings. You have done comprehensive research on this and I haven’t done much at all, so in some ways I feel that I don’t have a leg to stand on if I disagree with you about anything! What I can say is that I was a volunteer for Samaritans for several years. This experience is a source of information for me but it is also a frustration for me now because, although I am no longer a volunteer, there is still a ‘rule’ in me that tells me that I must still honour the confidential nature of that role, so I can’t quote details. Of course the people I encountered as a volunteer were people who did ask for help, which comes back to your point.
    What I do want to question is this:’… promiscuous sexual relations,…, violence,…, porn…can be routes for salvaging some sense of manliness…’ I don’t see any manliness in such selfish and immoral pursuits! I think these men could hold their heads up as real men if they were good stewards of their limited income, their time and their energy, and did things such as growing their own vegetables, hunting for home bargains, ‘bartering’ skills with other unemployed men to reduce living costs. I left out ‘sport’, ‘extreme exercise ‘ and ‘video games’ from the quote above because these are leisure activities which could benefit the men without hurting anyone else. Oh, and ‘petty crime’ – that could be costly if they end up in court! And as for turning to drink and drugs, I think that is very understandable, but I don’t think it’s manly for them to squander their limited income in this way – but presumably there are reasons why these men think it is manly.
    I do wonder if the neglect of an ‘existential hunger’ that unemployed men may experience is not dissimilar from what people experience at first when they retire and, more painfully, what people experience when they lose a spouse – they lose a role. After my grandfather died my grandmother became very fretful when it was rainy or windy because she thought my grandfather must be cold – she used to say that he would be less cold if he had been buried on the leeside of the hill and not on the coast side. She was talking about him as if he was still alive! When I mentioned this to a friend, my friend said, ‘She’s missing her caring role.’

    • Yes, there are similarities to the experiences of people who have retired. Even though they may enjoy comfort, security, and lots of leisure time, they may have lost a sense of purpose, place in the world, and self-actualization.

      It is important to recognize that manliness can take deeply immoral forms. A genocidal warlord like Genghis Khan wasn’t a good man, but he exemplified manly traits. Even good men can see traits in such a man that they admire and desire for themselves. Many men want to be manly more than they want to be righteous. There is a sense of manliness to be found in crime, violence, and sexual promiscuity. Of course, we should want to be both manly and righteous. However, when men are presented with the choice of being emasculated nice guys that no one takes really seriously or being manly bad guys, many will naturally choose the latter.

      Turning to drink and drugs is more likely to be a means of self-medication to deal with a sense of worthlessness or despair, rather than a pursuit of manliness. It’s more likely to be what people do when that quest fails.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        I am intrigued by this. I thought that ‘masculinity’ was a general term which covered characteristics of men for better or for worse, and that ‘manliness’ had positive connotations. An online search revealed that most dictionaries present both words as synonyms, with a typical definition being: ‘the traditional male quality of being brave and strong’. I also checked my thesaurus (1989 edition) and found no entry for ‘manliness’ (nor for ‘womanliness’) but I did find an entry for ‘masculinity’ and also for ‘masculinist’ – the synonym for this being ‘reformer’. I found one entry for ‘manliness’ in my dictionary of quotations (2009 edition) : ..’the silent manliness of grief..’ – I’ve never come across that before. So I’m not much further forward.
        I also thought about the late 19th century nursery rhyme in which little boys are said to be made of ‘frogs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails’ and little girls are said to be made of ‘sugar and spice and all things nice’. I also did a bit of homework on the words ‘tomboy’ and ‘sissy’. I was surprised to find that ‘tomboy’ dates back to the 16th century.
        This is all about terminology, of course, but I realise that this kind of terminology does not come out of thin air but arises from observations made about differences between boys and girls, differences which I am convinced exist because of biological differences, with some cultural influences thrown in! I find it interesting that the terms ‘tomboy’ and ‘sissy’ came into being as descriptors for youngsters who did not fit typical patterns.

      • Manliness does have positive connotations, but the issue that the positive traits of manliness are morally ambivalent in certain key respects. Bravery, strength, and mastery are good traits in principle, but they can be expressed in evil ways.

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  26. Orja says:

    I am late to the party. I read this piece three days ago and I have to re-read it, I was thinking of how your background in Biblical theology does influence how you write and connect issues almost like knitting. Then there’s the over 3,000 word challenge that makes a first reading almost inadequate to dig all the gold. So I would re-read this even though I spent 2 hours reading through the post and the comments. Two quick comments

    i) Your blogs on these issues never sound apocalyptic which is actually weird. While you paint issues very vividly, speak on hot-button issues you refuse to flirt with conspiracy theories or sound like the ‘doomsday’ prophet. I think the alt-right does play the apocalyptic card a lot (and I might be wrong on that but I think not). Nonetheless I expect your book will do more to show how the ‘crisis of discourse’ is changed when the Gospel enters the conversation. This is really necessary as sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the issues you are pointing out.

    ii.) One of the really helpful but subtle things I have been forced to consider thanks to your writing is how nuanced a theology of the sexes must be. Though you term your position ‘a Natural complementarity’, you still are ‘tribeless’ and actually seem to always hint at how the various tribes hurt somehow. I think this is a big takeaway every time I read you. I’ll love to see how you might critique your writings or position say after a decade or so and the reviews and discussions that would engage you once your book is released. We are all waiting!

  27. Orja says:

    Sorry Alastair three questions;
    a. ‘Feminism at the core is about the equality of women politically, socially and economically, it is like Christianity there are many ideas about that but at the core we know what Christianity is about”. A friend I deeply respect made the comment to me and now reading your blog especially at the point where you are trying to highlight how some feminist support ‘free speech’ and have noticed these dangers. I am wondering if feminism at the core has the withal to engage these issues. Also I am wondering why you rarely site feminist thinkers both old and dead who might be brilliant in articulating your point or take them as seriously as Jordan Peterson.

    b. How would you respond to an objection to your post that simply dismisses it as elitist as much as the conversation on the mainstream media which ushered in Trump? Does this crisis really matter some may ask? aren’t there more pressing issues than this?

    c. A male only space for discourse might lead very quickly to ‘hero-worship’, not that I don’t think that women aren’t suspectible to idolise the ‘Queen Bee’ but as you highlighted very truthfully in one of your recent Twitter threads, guys are more prone to have ‘obsessive knowledge of one thing’ and of course History is replete with the persuasive power of men who garner and mobilise both men and women to worship them. What can a male only space actually do to avoid this cos it seems inevitable somehow?

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